The controversial ‘Dob in a Drug Dealer’ campaign was launched across Australia mid last year as part of the government’s effort to stop the spread of illegal drugs, especially ice.
The campaign encourages members of the public to report suspected drug related activity to police, with a focus on drug
supply and cultivation, rather than individual cases of drug possession.
Police say they are facing pressure in responding to drug crime due to staff and budget shortages – despite massive funding injections into the NSW Police Force in recent years – and have called on members of the public to assist by reporting their concerns.
But the campaign has not been well received by all – in the months following its rollout, drug experts described the initiative as a waste of public money, arguing that the fund could be better spent educating youth about the dangers of drug use, and investing in health programs.
Despite these concerns, police this week announced an expansion of the program which will see local police visiting schools and community groups in 21 locations to encourage people to report suspected drug activity.
Police will also spend time on the streets handing out promotional material about the ‘Dob in a Dealer’ campaign.
The expansion was launched at a community meeting in Redfern last week, where Crime Stoppers NSW Chief Executive Peter Price told attendees that those who report drug crime would have their identity protected:
‘We want members of the public to play an active role and tell us about criminals that are bringing harmful drugs into their region.
Making a report to Crime Stoppers is completely confidential. You will never be identified or called up for a court case, but every piece of information you provide can help solve crimes and reduce supply.’
The expansion is supported by NSW Assistant Police Commissioner Peter Barrie, who told the media:
‘Police just can’t arrest their way out of this issue, it is a community issue.
It’s an issue that we play a part in and we are providing an opportunity here to work with Crime Stoppers, to work with the community and really make a large-scale difference.’
The campaign has also been backed by community figures in areas affected by drug crime, including the inner-city suburb of Redfern. Aboriginal Elder Aunty Millie Ingram said:
‘[Ice] just destroys families, doesn’t matter what that family is and we all have a responsibility to address it and dob in a dealer.’
Statistics published by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research record a significant increase in amphetamine use around the state – up 75.3% in the three years before September 2015.
Experts Raise Concerns
Drug experts have repeated their original concerns about the ‘Dob in a Dealer’ campaign.
In a thought-provoking opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald after the original campaign was launched last year, journalist and Legal Aid lawyer Tim Dick described the campaign as a ‘failed strategy,’ writing:
‘Australia’s default position is to increase the vast millions wasted on drug law enforcement in spite of the bulk of expert opinion telling the country to change tack.
…The $1 million annual cost of the dob-in-a-dealer furphy would almost cover the $1.3 million annual expense of a 10-bed rehabilitation unit, so a few more addicts don’t have to wait a few more months, often in custody, for a proper shot at saving their lives.’
Mr Dick expressed concerns that the government was prioritising punishment ahead of treatment, noting that public hospitals lack the necessary resources to deal with the increasing number of drug overdoses.
These sentiments are echoed by Matt Noffs, CEO of the Ted Noffs Foundation, which provides rehabilitation and support services for drug-dependant people. Speaking to the media last week, Mr Noffs said:
‘Many dealers are people caught up in drug dependence themselves and many are young.
My greatest concern is that a number of police across the country are saying we can’t arrest our way out of this (drug crisis).
The prisons are already overflowing and Dob in a Dealer needs to be weighed up with diversion programs, which say that if someone is arrested they should be supported with treatment.’
But as always, the government has ignored these concerns and recommendations, instead focussing on punishing drug users, rather than helping them beat their addiction and move forward with their lives.