Oxford City Council and Thames Valley Police are set to launch a joint taskforce to tackle hotspots of the dealing and use of drugs in Oxford.
The core of the new taskforce, which will launch next month (April), will feature a dedicated problem solving post, police officer and two police community support officers (PCSOs).
Both Oxford City Council and Thames Valley Police have seen increasing concerns about drug dealing and use over recent months, with the number of discarded needles found in public places increasing, and both local dealers and organised crime groups from other cities operating in Oxford.
The taskforce, which will be based at St Aldate’s Police Station, has been set up using funding from Oxford City Council, Thames Valley Police and the Oxford Community Safety Partnership.
The taskforce will include:
- A new problem solving post. The individual will be tasked with better understanding the drugs market in Oxford and finding new solutions to the issue. The post has been funded through a £45,000 investment from the Oxford Community Safety Partnership
- A dedicated police officer, funded by Thames Valley Police from existing budgets
- Two new PSCOs, who will be specifically tasked with supporting the taskforce’s work, including patrolling drugs hotspots to provide visible reassurance to Oxford residents. The posts have been funded through £70,000 of investment by Oxford City Council
The taskforce will coordinate other resources – including police officers and officers from the City Council’s Community Safety Team – to tackle hotspots of most concern and make a long-term difference for residents and businesses.
Oxfordshire County Council, Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group and Turning Point are supporting the taskforce in its work to engage drug users in treatment and to safeguard vulnerable people who may be exploited by organised crime groups.
Oxford Community Safety Partnership will provide the taskforce with £40,000 to fund interventions in known drug hotspots to disrupt drug dealing and use, including installing CCTV cameras, improving lighting, installing other security features, and engaging with local residents and communities to build reassurance and long-term resilience.
The taskforce will build on the joint work carried out over recent months as part of Thames Valley Police’s on-going Stronghold campaign, aimed at fighting organised crime in partnership, which has seen the Force working with Oxford City Council to carry out a wide range of activities to disrupt drug dealers and users at hotspots.
The Stronghold campaign has seen:
- High-visibility patrols of hotspots led by Thames Valley Police officers – including police officers, PCSOs, mounted officers and roads policing officers – and the City Council’s community safety team to disrupt drug dealing and use
- Plain clothes police officers have patrolled drug hotspots
- New external CCTV installed at Oxford Ice Rink to monitor the field behind the facility
- Oxford City Council officers and volunteers clearing and cutting back foliage at known drug hotspots, including in Wytham Street
Since February 2018, Thames Valley Police has made more than 30 arrests in Oxford city centre and surrounding areas for possession of drugs with intent to supply.
In July 2017, Thames Valley Police and Oxford City Council also carried out a joint high-visibility initiative to tackle drug supply in Oxford city centre and to safeguard those involved at risk of criminal exploitation.
The number of reports that the City Council has received of publically-discarded needles has been increasing – from 633 reports in 2016 to 914 in 2017.
The total number of discarded needles that the City Council has collected from public places (i.e. public toilets, parks and alleyways) has also increased, from 4,108 in 2016 to 4,793 in 2017. Meanwhile, the number of needles collected by the City Council from public sharp boxes has fallen, from 1,750 in 2016 to 717 in 2017.
Oxford City Council treats the collection of discarded needles in Oxford as a high priority and collects them within an hour of the report during office hours, and within two hours outside office hours.
Oxford’s drug recovery service, Turning Point, has about 600 people in treatment for opioid addiction in the city. Drug treatment is freely available to everybody who is affected by drug use and there are no waiting times. Over last 12 months, Turning Point has supported 92 opiate users in Oxford to successfully complete treatment and become drug free.
The Office for National Statistics found that there were 27 deaths related to drugs misuse in Oxford between 2014 and 2016. This equates to 6.5 deaths for every 100,000 residents – above the Oxfordshire rate of 2.7 and the average across England of 4.2.
Councillor Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council Executive Board Member for Community Safety, said: “The sale and use of class A drugs in Oxford has become more brazen. People are now openly dealing and taking hard drugs in broad daylight and putting the safety of Oxford residents at risk by discarding used needles in the street. We will not tolerate this.
“Residents and businesses have been increasingly raising concerns to the City Council and police about this brazen drug market. In response, Thames Valley Police and Oxford City Council have worked closely to put an end to this unacceptable behaviour. We have hit back with high-visibility patrols, with dozens of arrests and other legal measures, and by reclaiming the streets for Oxford residents.
“Now we are ramping up our efforts. We have invested funding to pay for two new PCSOs to patrol Oxford’s drug hotspots and, with Thames Valley Police, secured funding and set up this new taskforce to fight this drugs scourge – but also to protect vulnerable people from being exploited by organised crime groups in Oxford.”
Superintendent Joe Kidman, Local Police Area Commander for Oxford, said: “Drug dealers prey on and exploit some of the most vulnerable in our community; we do not want these people in our city. It is clear that, despite considerable efforts, enforcement alone will not work.
“I welcome the commitment of Oxford City Council and other partners to work together through the taskforce. This is a significant step forward in our on-going efforts to tackle drug dealing and misuse and will play a vital role in safeguarding vulnerable people, disrupting criminality and bringing offenders to justice.”
Andy Symons, Senior Operations Manager at Turning Point, said: “Open drug markets, public drug use and discarded needles inflicts harm on drug users trying to escape addiction along with the local community.
“The number of drug-related deaths in Oxford is very concerning to me and treatment both protects vulnerable users and provides lasting solutions out of drug addiction.
“Turning Point is committed to working in partnership, where we have seen many additional users entering treatment as a direct result of joint operations in Oxford.”
To report drug dealing or use in Oxford, contact Thames Valley Police by calling 101.