On 18th July I warned about the effect of drugs on our society here in Ipswich, not just on the people who use them, but on all those whose lives are undermined or damaged because of the actions and situations that the drugs trade leads to.
Most obviously, a very high proportion of theft and burglary is driven by the need for hard drug users to get the funds to pay for their habit. People who are unemployed, or on lower than average wages, cannot afford to pay for their drugs unless they obtain the money some other way – by theft, by prostitution, by begging, or a combination of all of these. When you see beggars in the street, please do not give them money – you will probably be fuelling their drug habit, whether that is alcohol or one of the illegal drugs, and may well be subsidising some criminal minder or other into the bargain. If you feel moved to help, offer to buy them food or a non-alcoholic drink.
Because the supply of illegal drugs is by definition illegal, those who supply them are likely to be people who are willing to break the law in all sorts of other ways as well. And indeed, in order to avoid detection and prosecution, it is often necessary for drug dealers to break other laws if they want to stay in business. Anyone who buys illegal drugs is highly likely to be financially supporting professional dealers like this. And this applies to tobacco and other smuggled or stolen goods as well. If you are thinking of buying tobacco from a man in a pub then DON’T – you may well be supporting, at third or fourth hand, an operation that also sells heroin to schoolchildren or smuggles young women into this country under false pretences in order to force them into prostitution.
And because others are also involved in drug dealing, the competition is fierce and ruthless. If you are less good at intimidation, if you let your conscience get in the way of persuading children to become addicted to hard drugs, if you are not willing to use the extremes of violence when necessary, then you will not make an effective drug dealer. If you are not caught and prosecuted, you will be hounded out of the market by the more ruthless dealers who do use those methods.
On 31st July I wrote to the Police & Crime Commissioner and the Chief Constable because of all the reports I had been getting – including from constituents who had been directly affected – of the rise of gang violence in Ipswich. There are two or three areas of our town where these gangs operate, and they are currently engaged in a “turf war”. I believe this is fuelled by rival drug-dealing operations. Residents of these areas have spoken to me at length about how unhappy they are to see violence and intimidation right outside their houses. And this was before the stabbings of the past week.
Suffolk Police officer numbers across our County have shrunk by 300 over the past 10 years. Conservative politicians keep telling us that crime is falling, but that is a legacy of the increase in police officers in the late 1990s and the introduction of PCSOs. Violent crime is now rising – particularly so in Ipswich – and it will continue to rise unless and until we see an increase in police numbers in our town. I am meeting with the PCC and the Chief Constable on the 30th, alongside David Ellesmere from the Borough Council, and we will be arguing for more police resources for Ipswich. We also want Mr Passmore to be more forceful in demanding more police funding from the government.
For visitors to our town, for the vast majority of our residents, Ipswich is still a very safe town. The violence over the past few months appears to have been directed at rival gang members and their families. We should not let the current issues upset our way of life. But if the violence and intimidation is not nipped in the bud, it is likely to get worse.
We need more police in Ipswich, more active intervention with young people at risk to prevent them from drifting into gangs, more effective treatments to get people off their addictions, hard-hitting messages in schools to warn young people away from drugs. We CAN end this gang violence in Ipswich, but we need to start taking it seriously NOW.