Australian politicians and police have waged a ‘War on Drugs’ since the first National Drug Strategy was unveiled in 1985.
But despite consecutive campaigns to curb illicit drug use by imposing tougher penalties for drug supply, statistics suggest that more and more Australians are using drugs.
The latest in a nationwide bid to crack down on drug manufacturers and suppliers is the ‘Dob in a Dealer’ campaign, facilitated by Crime Stoppers and state and territory police forces.
What Does the ‘Dob in a Dealer’ Campaign Involve?
According to the Victorian Crime Stoppers website, the ‘Dob in a Dealer’ campaign encourages members of the community to ‘report information on drug manufacture and distribution to bring awareness to the drug problem.’
Crime Stoppers says that the campaign is focussed on catching dealers and manufacturers, rather than drug users.
The program has already been trialled in a number of other parts of Australia, including Victoria’s Goulburn Murray region, where methamphetamine use is said to be rampant.
Police say that their services are already stretched due to the widespread nature of drug use in many regions, with frontline services facing ‘significant pressure’ when users overdose or engage in violence. They hope that the campaign will ‘relieve some of the pressure on key services’ and aid in ridding the streets of drug dealers.
Northern Territory Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw recently called on the public to ‘dob in’ dealers to combat the spread of ice in the territory. Speaking on public radio, he encouraged people with information on drug dealers – including relatives, children and other loved ones – to come forward to police.
Whilst acknowledging that dobbing in a friend or relative would be a ‘challenging decision to make,’ Kershaw cited information from the public as a driving factor behind increased drug lab busts.
Victorian Crime Stoppers has reported a surge in the amount of information from the public about ice activity, with reports increasing a whopping 427% since the campaign began. The organisation has described the results as ‘very encouraging’.
So, what are the Problems?
Despite the positive reports surrounding the ‘Dob In a Dealer’ campaign, several experts are of the view that programs focusing on enforcement rather than education and prevention are futile and even counter-productive.
At a recent conference drug reform conference hosted by the NSW Bar Association, a number of guest speakers from the health, education and legal professions expressed the view that prohibitionist approaches to drug use have failed and should be abandoned.
A paper published by the Bar Association also suggests that the ‘Dob In a Dealer’ campaign will be ineffective in tackling the problems associated with drug use and availability, and will do little to address problems in the community brought about by the misuse of drugs.
Matt Noffs, grandson of Ted Noffs who founded the Ted Noffs Foundation and Wayside Chapel, suggests that the ‘Dob in a Dealer’ campaign might even end up doing more harm than good. He sees the campaign as a waste of public money, citing the US government’s failed yet extremely expensive approach to tackling marijuana use between 1998 and 2006 by directing advertisements towards young people.
Noffs also argues that despite reassurances by the police and Crime Stoppers, low-level users such as youths may be caught out by the campaign, while drug suppliers and manufacturers escape unscathed. The cost of incarcerating a young person is estimated to be around $150,000 – but it could end up being even more in the long run as it ‘often allows them to create large syndicates and realise a life of crime early on.’
Rather than calling on the public to report those who they suspect are engaged in drug supply or manufacture, Noffs suggests that a proactive approach aimed at treating drug users would be more beneficial and cost-effective, particularly given the huge costs of prosecuting and sending people to prison.
Besides the potential to unfairly target users, there are also concerns that misinformed or irresponsible members of the public may end up lodging false reports against neighbours, friends or family members without any concrete evidence.
There are additional concerns about members of the public inadvertently exposing themselves to danger by ‘dobbing in’ potential drug dealers.
The problems become even more complex when the person doing the ‘dobbing in’ is a friend or relative of the suspect – in these cases, the ‘dobber’ may be living in close proximity to the suspect, and may even expose themselves or children to domestic violence.
But despite these issues and the views of experts working with those affected by drug use, the government seems keen to push on with its ‘Dob in a Dealer’ campaign and its punitive approach to drug use generally.