The PSNI plans to adopt an awareness campaign created by a Dublin community project to highlight the linkages between recreational drug use and the power of gangs,
A delegation of PSNI officers attended a presentation by Safer Blanchardstown in west Dublin yesterday, which was also attended by senior officers from Blanchardstown Garda Station.
Safer Blanchardstown, an inter-agency community safety project, launched the education initiative Think Before You Buy last October — it hopes it will become an “all-island” initiative.
The drug debt intimidation campaign, involving a video, specifically targeted recreational drug users, highlighting the link between their purchases and organised crime and the damage inflicted on local communities.
A PSNI inspector, Jonathan Francey, from Newtownards, Co Down, was on an exchange at the Blanchards-town division and saw the campaign. He brought it back to his local Policing Community Safety Partnership, which was interested.
It was also passed up the chain in in the force and impressed Chief Inspector David Henderson, who heads the Organised Crime Unit in the PSNI’s Crime Investigation Branch.
“I saw the video and it was a very good production,” he said. “This issue is not peculiar to Blanchardstown: it’s a problem for everyone, north and south.”
He said the issue is a supply-and-demand reduction issue.
“This education initiative highlights the impact [that] recreational drug use has, firstly, on generating money for organised crime and, secondly, the violence that it causes in communities and the destruction caused to communities,” said Chief Insp Henderson.
He said there is a link with paramilitarism in the North and the intimidation of communities and punishment-style attacks.
Philip Jennings, co-ordinator of Safer Blanchardstown, said recreational drug use is a “powerhouse” for the money generated by organised crime gangs.
“A person who spends €10 a week on drugs thinks it has no effect, but if 400,000 people do it every week, that’s the reason why these boys are shooting each other on the street, why they are missing their targets and getting the wrong person, an innocent person,” he said.
Mr Jennings said this violence and the intimidation of communities is happening right across the country.
He said recreational users need to be aware of the responsibility they have for fuelling the drugs trade and the accompanying violence and intimidation.
Inspector Tony Twomey of Blanchardstown station said it was a “very good” campaign rare in its particular focus on recreational users.
“Often people who engage with recreational drug use do not see the link with organised crime and intimidation and its contribution to what’s happening on the bigger scene at the moment, with the major feuds,” he said.
“Intimidation is particularly difficult for us to investigate. For obvious reasons, people don’t want to report and it only comes to our attention when houses are targeted by these middle men.”
Insp Twomey said there is a “whole chain” in drugs supply and that pressure is applied on each link.
He said the campaign has a wider application within the country and, with the interest of the PSNI, across the border.
Chief Insp Henderson said they hope to use the campaign across the North.
Mr Jennings said he hoped to have an “all-island” campaign and has the endorsement of seven joint policing committees and the backing of the main political parties.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.