Crimebusters Ceredigion

Not convinced our streets are safe? Or there are never police when you need them most? Alexandra Bánfi went looking for answers, checking narcotics records for Dyfed-Powys Police, and talking to a senior officer about anti-social behaviour, street crime and drugs.

By Alexandra Bánfi   |   Reporter   |
Saturday 25th June 2022 1:01 pm
[email protected]
Chief Inspector Christine Fraser, Dyfed-Powys Police
Chief Inspector Christina Fraser has been working for Dyfed Powys Police for 20 years (Cambrian News )

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There’s a growing perception that street crime is on the rise, with concerns over drugs and anti-social behaviour in Aberystwyth in particular.

And that public perception is indeed the case Dyfed-Powys Police say, but it insists it is winning the fight on crime through bobbies on the beat and a four-pronged approach to tackle drugs and anti-social behaviour.

Chief Inspector Christina Fraser has been working on the force for 20 years and told Cambrian News the approach to dealing with drug crime has changed drastically.

But she said the rise in antisocial behaviour can be traced back to Covid-19 lockdowns: “There have been small rises, not huge rises, in anti-social behaviour. It is going up across the board.

“There is elements of post-Covid-19, it’s not me trying to pass the buck elsewhere. Some of the trend we are noticing is around young people. They’ve come out of two years of Covid-19 lockdown, and we are seeing across the county, and I know it’s replicated across other counties as well, young people striking out.

“This is not linked to drink or drugs, it’s just naughty behaviour really. Climbing on top of buildings, stealing cones, for example.

“But we are also seeing something similar in adults, and alcohol is invariably used for that. On nights out, adults are becoming far more agitated, far more quickly. They’re getting into fights a lot quicker than previously seen. And SIA doormen are telling us that as well, and they’re calling for assistance a lot more than we’re used to,” she said.

Back in October 2021, before Richard Lewis became the Chief Constable for Dyfed-Powys Police, he led Cleveland police, and urged forces across the UK to look at drug use through the lens of a public health crisis, rather than purely being a criminal justice problem. It’s an approach that sits well with Chief Insp Fraser, who suggests decriminalising drugs is “aspirational” and would be a long and cautious road.

“I don’t think we can move away from prosecuting the serious offenders — certainly those that want to push drugs, those that want to trade in it, those that want to move it around the country,” she told the Cambrian News.

“When I started 20 years ago, somebody would be caught with a joint and they’d be put up in front of the court. But now we’ve got very close working relationships with DDAS, Choices in south Wales, and Kaleidoscope in Powys, those are our three commissioned services through the police and crime commissioner officer.

“We will divert people and say, ‘we’ve found you with some low-level drugs, it’s the first time you’ve come into police contact’. So it’s rather than putting them in front of the court, because would that stop them in the future? Possibly not, because there’s probably underlying reasons they’re using those drugs, either as a coping mechanism or some other reason.”

And she says forces need to work together and with partner agencies in moving towards decriminalisation: “It’s aspirational for sure. I think we need an agreed position nationally, so that we’re all working together.

“The strategy is set by the government, through the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and it comes down to us. So, if we start taking very different tracks on a local level, it’s going to become a very confusing picture,” she said. “It would have to be a national strategy, to still pursue potential suppliers and traffickers, but potentially taking a different route for very low level, first-time users. But we would have to tread very carefully; it can be a very slippery slope. It would be nice to see a much more concerted diversionary effort.”

Chief Insp Fraser said many of the issues stem from the “cumulative” effect of multiple drugs, or users “taking big risks” by not knowing what’s in their drugs.

She spoke of the WEDINOS Project, which is independent from the police, that helps people to identify what’s in drugs: “If somebody has had a batch and they’re ill afterwards, or if they’ve had something and thought ‘this isn’t quite normal’, they can use the service.

“They can send it off, anonymously, and they’ll get a report afterwards telling them what was actually in it.

“From my perspective, people automatically assume the police are about the purse element of the four-pronged strategy, that we want to lock everybody up and throw away the key. But if we’re going to successfully cut down on drug use, deaths and harm they cause to our communities, neighbours, and children, we need to protect and prepare.”

Chief Insp Fraser said the force is currently concluding a six-month trial of the use of Nyxoid, a nasal spray designed to overcome the effect of an opioid overdose, across four areas of the force, including Aberystwyth. While they have not been required to use it in Aberystwyth, they have used it five times elsewhere in their patch.

Dyfed-Powys Police currently adopt a “four pillar” approach to tackling drug crimes — pursue, prevent, protect, and prepare.

“What most people see a lot of is very much the pursue element. That’s the very visual aspect of police putting through doors, warrants, stopping cars, stop and search, and seizing drugs.

“We have got aspects of that — what we call operation Sky Lake — where we’re looking at boats bringing things into the Welsh coastline, bringing in illegal commodities as well.

“The other side — the prevent, protect, and prepare — is working a lot with partners; local authorities, health boards, the Welsh Ambulance Service, to protect our communities, to prepare individuals in our communities, to identify those who may be vulnerable to drug use, or maybe to organised crime groups.”

Much of the conversation recently has centred on the rise of anti-social behaviour in the Rheidol ward, Aberystwyth, and its links to drug crime. Just last summer, the force’s largest ever heroin seizure took place on South Road where a drug dealer was jailed for his part in the possession and supply of heroin worth £170,000.

“In terms of organised crime gangs, we haven’t seen a huge burst in behaviour for them. That is sort of ticking along as it has done for us.”

In the Rheidol Ward, many residents say they want to see more officers on foot patrols.

Asked by Cambrian News on how many officers are ready and available to respond at any given time, Chief Insp Fraser said the force refrains from giving exact numbers as it could be used as a strategy by offenders.

“In terms of foot patrols, the whole reason we created a neighbourhood policing team and we introduced PCSOs, was because we knew response officers get tied up with response calls all the time.

“The old-fashioned day of bobby on the beat had kind of disappeared around 10 or 15 years ago,” she said.

“There has been a lot of feedback from the community and we have taken it on board, we are doing what we can to resolve these issues. But the reality is, we can’t post a police officer on the corner of every street, as much as I’d like to.

“I’d love to have a huge cohort of officers I could deploy out of the station at any given time. Well, from my view, they should be out of the station anyway. We have limited resources, so we do have to be very sensible and careful about where we deploy them.”

So called ‘County Lines’ drug networks have been a concern in Aberystwyth particularly — but Chief Insp Fraser said the rurality of the area means it is “not impacted by County Lines the same way other forces are”.

“We are not naive, they are still here. A lot of the work we do is to promote and further people’s understanding of County Lines. Because if you go back ten years ago, people hadn’t heard about it and they would be quite naive to that ending up in their community.”

While County Lines is still “one of the predominant ways drugs end up here” by organised crime gangs, Chief Insp Fraser said Covid-19 lockdowns forced those running drugs into the area to change their approach. “Organised crime gangs who normally might take to the roads and run their drugs into the area suddenly realised they were quite conspicuous, and they made easy targets for us.

“So, what we’ve seen is an increase in postal activity, so ordering on the dark web or online and having items delivered. We’re having to step up and do a lot of work again with partners, such as border force and postal delivery companies, to try pick up some of that.”

She said organised crime gangs and County Lines sometimes go under the radar, but that communities in Aberystwyth might be “more alive” to such issues due to the direct train line to Birmingham and being “quite close to Merseyside”.

Cambrian News’ figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request detail drug crime across Ceredigion to the end of 2021. Chief Insp Fraser was happy to update the current situation.

“More widely I work with Hywel Dda and Powys Teaching Health Board, and what we’re picking up on is there is a much greater use of Benzodiazepines. That’s becoming very much the drug of choice at the moment. These are the sorts of things that are being picked up through the post.

“Unfortunately, it’s becoming linked far more with drug-related deaths. If people think of the stereotypical drug user, it’s somebody injecting heroin or snorting cocaine, but from what we’re seeing that’s not really the picture.

“We’re seeing Benzodiazepines, cocaine is still here but heroin not really so much. Street valium is a problem we’re picking up. And mixing all this with alcohol.”

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