I'm the Special Constable who publicly called out politicians for wilfully ignoring the need for drug reform to tackle Londons surging knife crime epidemic live on BBC Question Time. AMA.

To watch the short clip:

https://twitter.com/bbcquestiontime/status/1083509805690572801

To watch the whole programme (my comment is at the very end):

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0by97hj/question-time-2019-10012019

My twitter:

https://twitter.com/JoePanasiuk

Edit 1 - Mods have proof.

Edit 2 - Thanks for all the questions. I hope this has gone some way to stimulating the debate. I suspect I won't be a a police special much longer but either way I have no regrets!

Edit 3 - Thanks to those who have got in touch to offer support and advice. On a personal level, keep the discussion going - talk to friends and family, ask for their opinions and fact check whenever possible. The more informed and vocal people are the higher the likelihood of change.

Comments: 1622 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

Permaphrost3353 karma

Did you realize someone was taking your picture while you were at a [10]?

potcop2961 karma

Haha! I suspect they purposefully selected that opening frame for comedic effect. Not exactly flattering!

MyPostsAreHalal2161 karma

Do your superiors share your view and if not did they threaten your position?

potcop3741 karma

I can't really answer for my superiors. I can however remind you that police are people. The views within the police tend to reflect those amongst the general population. In my experience pretty much everyone agrees that current policies don't work, when it comes to the proposed solution however you'll find a lot more variation.

Barune1086 karma

Thanks for fighting the good fight. :)

e: also for your hilarious username

potcop1658 karma

I couldn't believe it was available!

Zelpst70 karma

As an American I’m now questioning whether I’ve been saying ‘available’ wrong, like with aluminium.

bacondtf45 karma

No, it was just misspelled

potcop43 karma

Typo - sorry.

chipz_n_cheez207 karma

Ex-police myself. If you weren't a special you would have been absolutely fucked for doing what you did, but bravo.

potcop291 karma

I know right? I'm pretty sure there is a big fuck coming my way but I'll take the hit if need be. I'm not exactly going to lose out on pay. I love the job and have huge respect for the police officers I've worked with.

I've had kind words from T/Ch Insp Jason Kew (https://twitter.com/jqjasonkew/status/1083731117759438848) and Lord Paddick (https://twitter.com/brianpaddick/status/1083608879089545216) which is really, really great to see.

PixelLight154 karma

I'm pretty sure there is a big fuck coming my way but I'll take the hit if need be.

If only more politicians had that kind of conviction, eh? You have my admiration that you are willing to stand up for your opinion and deal with the consequences, come what they may.

chipz_n_cheez79 karma

When you don't have to worry about money its easier to say how you feel. In my last few weeks before I resigned I was very outspoken.

potcop217 karma

Couldn't agree more. If this was my career and I was 5 years in I'd probably be shitting bricks. Don't you think it's mad that the police force actively don't want officers, the very people who experience the effects of drugs policy day in and day out, to share their opinion on the matter? Sounds like a very progressive and open culture.

iLikeMeeces127 karma

Fellow Brit here, thank you for this. A very close relative of mine was considering joining the police but the brief encounters which she has had with them haven't been the most positive, or reassuring. She shares the same beliefs as you that cannabis should be legal and as such she said that she didn't know if she could work with people who seemed so against it.

I said that's precisely what would make her a good officer along with that fact that she's smart, relatable and above all else caring- the public would both respect that and need that. I'll show her this AMA and hope that it might encourage her somewhat.

PillarofPositivity52 karma

My experience with the police has been nothing but positive, especially when it comes to weed.

Well either that or the police that have stopped us are incredibly stupid.

Literally zero of the times i have been caught with weed i have been arrested.

Just walking down the street with a fairly large joint [obvious enough it wasnt a cigerette] i have been asked for ID to show i was 18 and then moved on.

Police officers have walked up to us in parks while we are obviously smoking but not bothering us and maybe mentioning to clear up our rubbish or complimenting us on having a rubbish bag with us.

Maybe a sly comment about being aware of any children around us.

Been caught with weed in stop and searches and they've just let us go as they were just looking for weapons or harder drugs.

Hell at the Summer Solstice party i've had multiple police officers shine a torch to make it easier to roll a joint for me.

MY experience has overwhelmingly been, if you aren't causing trouble and are keeping to yourself and being tidy they will let you off.

potcop113 karma

The response to cannabis possession depends on what force you're policed by. If you live in Durham the police have made public the fact they really couldn't care less about personal cannabis possession - https://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/jul/22/durham-police-stop-targeting-pot-smokers-and-small-scale-growers

You could argue this makes government policy even more confused and unfair.

chipz_n_cheez123 karma

Ex-police. If he wasnt a volunteer he would have been absolutely fucked by his bosses for speaking out the way he has.

aspz49 karma

Why?

potcop259 karma

Because we have to seek written permission if the content you want to publish or broadcast:

  • relates to policing
  • refers to your police activities
  • contains information acquired through policing
  • is incompatible with membership of the 'force'
  • reveals that you’re connected to the 'force'

I purposefully didn't disclose the force I work with but you could argue that point 1 and 2 have been breached. I'd genuinely like a legal opinion on whether this is compatible with Article 10 of EHR though? It's like telling a nurse they cannot discuss their opinion on obesity in public. Of course you can't reveal sensitive details that risk safety but I'm entitled to express my own personal opinion.

-ah44 karma

but I'm entitled to express my own personal opinion.

You are, but the moment you do it in the guise of a serving police officer, you create an issue. It's the same reason that any civil servant, serving soldier or anyone whose job involves representing the state has reasonable restrictions on what they can say.

In the context of the police, the responsibility to be politically neutral and indeed appear so should be pretty obvious.

potcop93 karma

But the key word there is 'reasonable'. If you're not disclosing tactics, sensitive data, the force you work for, or information that could only possible be acquired by the police then is it reasonable? All opinions are political in nature but I'm not a member of a political party nor were my words expressly political. I didn't bang on about 'tory cuts' or the 'soft left'. Agree it's a fine line.

FALGSC_2020750 karma

Have you looked at LEAP UK and read the books Neil Woods has put out? They’re specifically a lobbying group/charity for serving and former cops looking at drugs reform.

potcop695 karma

LEAP have reached out to me and offered fantastic support. I will certainly be exploring their organisation - sounds like they do some great stuff.

PanikLIji491 karma

Is cannabis a big deal in the police department? It's illegal of course, but in many countries the police mainly ignore cannabis use and sometimes even small dealers.
How is it in Britain? Is there a divide among police officers (young/old, countryside/city etc.)?

potcop192 karma

This is a super complex question. In short yes there is a divide and it's something Dr Sue Pryce talks about in this short video - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2ndS_n0sKk.

In busy cities I think you are much less likely to be processed (as in arrested) for cannabis possession than in a countryside force. This is due to the limitations of cell space and time. Some smaller forces like Durham have publicly stated they have no interest in personal possession of cannabis. When you talk about the Metropolitan police however I think they are much less likely to make statements that contradict official government policy simply because of the close relationship they have with Westminster. So in effect you just end up with more unnecessary processing in order to satisfy politicians.

Faesun433 karma

if special constables don't get paid, do you have another career that does provide an income?

alternatively: how many police hours are spent on processing each personal use cannabis offence on average?

potcop1158 karma

It's hard to give a true reflection of hours because I only do 40-50 hours a month as a special. So naturally I'm going to come into contact with it a lot less. I have however spent many hours processing people knowing full well that it is going to have zero positive impact, which is of course frustrating at times.

I remember the day after Canada legalised recreational cannabis I has to stop and search a young, well educated man with a job in government. This was because our drugs dog indicated he was in possession. The search turned up a single rolled spliff. I had to stand there, take all of his personal details, fill out a community resolution form, confiscate the spliff, seal it in an evidence bag, run his name past the radio operator, read him an official warning, book the evidence into the station, fill out another online form, upload my bodyworn video, link my bodyworn video to the online search form. All whilst making the guy look like a criminal in the eyes of the passing public. In total this took us easily an hour. Add to this the costs associated with administration, secure storage, destruction and the keeping of paperwork for a mandatory 7 years. You get the idea...

robindawilliams498 karma

As someone in Canada it has been almost impossible to notice the difference since legalization, one thing that has been apparant though is that cops now have one less reason to "harass" kids and low-income people. Now that they don't need to waste time over small possession, not only does it free up their time but it also improves the view of police for these social groups because that negative interaction is no longer necessary. Between that and a fairly young drinking age there are very few reasons for a teenager to develop a fear of police.

potcop520 karma

THIS, is a very important point . Cannabis is used as a means to dig, there is no doubt about that. If a police officer can smell cannabis in a car they immediately have grounds to search the vehicle and its occupants. Depending on your view this is a fantastic tool or a means of abuse.

We often talk about the break down in the relationship between young people/communities and the police. I have seen this first hand a number of times. One time in particular a young asian guy was stopped and searched in front of a large crowd of people in a very popular tourist area for smoking a joint. Upon spotting us he immediately stubbed it out but the officer in my opinion was unnecessarily abrupt in his choice of words and actions. The guy was restrained and placed in cuffs as he became upset. If I were that kid I'd now have an element of resentment based on the humiliation that officer put me through.

potcop229 karma

My previous job was Head of Product for a software supplier to the UK's NHS. I spent 3 years working on the ground in a number of large NHS hospitals to understand their challenges and attempt to solve them through the use of technology. We were very much specialists in 'digitisation' but through the bottom-up, user led approach towards design. I worked with some fantastic people and managed to gain a real deep insight into the workings of the NHS.

Partly the reason I joined the police on a voluntary basis is because I wanted first hand insight into their workings and challenges with the aim of one day being able to help. I've always wanted to eventually head towards TV journalism or politics as a career path. Right now however I'm setting up my own business in a completely unrelated area.

Khuteh372 karma

Well done op. You guys are fighting an uphill battle and anything society/government can do to improve lives, safe lives, and take advantage of the economics and tax revenues to improve society even more.

In Canada I believe the biggest issue they have had is dui's but this is miniscule compared to the knife and gang related statistics that comes from illegal drug sales.

My question is: Do you think it will happen in the next 5-10 years?

potcop393 karma

Yes. Government recently took the first step in allowing its medicinal use after huge public backlash against this case - https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/06/11/cannabis-oil-epileptic-boy-seized-heathrow-mother-says-minister/

Public opinion is changing as was shown by the applause from the crowd. It is worth noting that BBC Question Time go to huge lengths to ensure their audiences are reflective of the general UK population in terms of sexuality, race, political opinion, stance on Brexit etc.

spicycastles2236137 karma

Was there a single incident that made you question whether cannabis should be legalised, or was it an accumulation of events?

I can imagine this would have been difficult, have you faced any repercussions? Work or otherwise?

potcop485 karma

I first started to questions the status quo of UK drug policy when I was at the University of Nottingham studying for my politics degree. Dr. Sue Pryce taught a fantastic course on 'Drugs and Politics'. You can see a short clip of her here - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2ndS_n0sKk.

It really opened up my eyes as to how given the evidence avaliable UK drug policy made zero sense. I think learning about the story of Prof. David Nutt in particular highlighted how politics was being used to suppress science. He made the scientifically true claim that ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol. As a result he was sacked from a supposedly independent policy panel. It's worth reading about him - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Nutt

Since joining the police I've been able see the consequences of our failed policy and its utterly miserable. The two biggest stand out issues are:

  1. The complete and utter ridiculousness of having to deal with small scale cannabis possession.
  2. The criminalisation of heroin addicts, most of whom are very vulnerable people, hooked on a drug that has stolen their life away from them. The amount of robberies, thefts and burglaries committed by this group are astounding.

jimmycarr121 karma

What in your opinion would happen to that second group of people if heroin was legalised? Do you think the petty crime would go down or stay consistent? Would you advocate for heroin legalisation?

potcop180 karma

Yes I would advocate for the decriminalisation of heroin. I would further advocate the legalisation and free availability of heroin for those who have medically been declared as having an addiction. This would be on the basis they sign up to a harm reduction programme. In London the current situation goes something like this:

  1. Heroin addict wakes up and needs a hit.
  2. Heroin addict uses free public phone box to call dealer.
  3. Heroin addict goes and shoplifts.
  4. Heroin addict walks around the streets trying to sell their stolen goods as fast as possible.
  5. Dealers arrive and supply drugs in exchange for cash.
  6. Police get called to report of shoplifting.
  7. Most officers on the radio groan because they have more important issues to deal with.
  8. 3-4 hours of police time gets spent on taking statements, looking at CCTV and putting on a report.
  9. If suspect is arrested add another 10 hours of police time plus associated costs.
  10. Heroin addict gets back onto streets without the help and support they need and cycle starts again.
  11. Shop raises price of goods to compensate for rate of loss.
  12. Dealers continue to supply.

YogiTheBear13138 karma

Let me preface this by saying im all for legalization...

But if the main reason is to combat knife violence, then where does this stop?

For instance what if in 2 years knife violence increased in say opioid related crimes. Do we just push to legalize opioids? Explain how this isnt a flawed premise when applied to something like opioids.

potcop122 karma

As I tried to touch upon at the beginning I am not ignorant to the fact there are multiple complex causes for the rise in knife crime. Tackling just a single issue is not in itself going to solve the problem. Cannabis however is a low hanging fruit. It is easy to grow, easy to sell and has a nice markup. Taking this element away from the black market would help to deprive it of cash that is currently acting as an incentive for violence. This would need to be done as part of a multi-pronged approached tackling issues such as fatherless families, cultural violence, lack of discipline, lack of opportunity etc.

I personally do believe opioids should be avaliable for free to those with medically proven addictions and who are willing to participate in rehabilitation reduction programmes.

blue80025 karma

As a regular, I know I couldn't say what you said as I'd probably get binned for gross misconduct. Has anyone pulled you aside for a 'chat' yet?

potcop81 karma

I've been told they want to put me on a management action plan. I'd rather resign. Awaiting their response. I do genuinely have good intentions and love the job. So it's a shame but sometimes crazy shit happens and you just have to double down and go with it. On the other side it has reignited a sense of activism within me and I am wondering whether the two are no-longer compatible anyway, should I wish to continue.

ChillTheFuxkOut18 karma

Given your current understanding and work, at this point in time, do you think cannabis will ever be reacreationally legalised in the UK?

If it's just a matter of when, not if, what is your projected timeframe?


Is it true majority of police officers stopping people for small amounts of personal cannabis would actually rather not give out a warning/fine/criminal record, and that moderate consumption is generally perceived as harmless, but unfortunately they are bound by duty?


Is the stereotypical view of cannabis as THE gateway drug still pervasive in law enforcement?


Thanks for your time!

potcop49 karma

1- It's a matter of time. I've been told personally by a number of UK politicians that in private the majority are in support of serious drug reform. In public however they are all very much against or unwilling to express their views.

There are two relevant points relating to this.

First, so long as Theresa May is running the government I don't see reform happening. Come the next general election however I suspect it will be a hot-topic given the recent changes in Canada and the US.

Second, there is a fear amongst politicians that papers such as the DailyMail that hold huge electoral influence will spin the story to damage their career. This is the paper that made a coordinated and concerted effort to rebrand laughing glass (n2o) as 'hippie crack'. Even mentioning n2o and crack in the same breath is absurd.

2- In my experience, yes.

3- Less than it use to be. I think it's quite obvious that a drug dealer has more of a vested interest ingesting you to try harder drugs than it would be if avaliable from regulated retailers.

pinktiger413 karma

There's absolutely no chance unless Liberal Democrats somehow make a comeback. Both Conservatives and Labour are both incredibly anti-drugs. This is very wishful thinking.

potcop23 karma

I think this will change. The last election showed just how important the youth vote is in the UK at the moment. There are not many issues I believe would mobilise the youth in the same way the offer of serious drug reform would. I have politically inactive friends who would jump at the chance.

EveryUsernameTakenFS11 karma

There is a LOT of comments here and I couldn’t initially find this question but I won’t lie I gave up looking (on mobile).

“I suspect I won’t be a police special much longer”.

It’s really sad that it is a possibility, presumably just for airing your true feelings and opinions but the UK is so sensitive like that :(

Do you have a fallback career/hobby/plan to peruse if this unfortunate scenario became real?

potcop33 karma

“I suspect I won’t be a police special much longer”.

I think it's more than a possibility at this stage. I expect to have to resign on Monday. I'm self-employed, have a great family and am financially sound so it's not going to cause any major issues. Lots more going on in my life right now that deserves my attention such as a close relative suffering from dementia. Equally as passionate about about the right to euthanasia as well but that's a whole different chapter.

Thanks for the kind support, really.

CongregationVJackals11 karma

Have they thrown you out of the Policeman's union yet and given you a free set of devil horns??

omegamann11 karma

He’s a volunteer officer , required to complete a minimum of 16 hours per month, for no pay. Specials are also not members of the Police Federation. British Police join the Fed rather than a Union as they aren’t allowed to be members of a union

potcop10 karma

Police Federation

I don't believe this is the case anymore. I'll try and check but specials do now have the option to be represented by the federation. Specials must do a minimum of 16 hours a month. Some just about scrape this, others far exceed it. I know specials who do 400/500 hours a year. I normally average 250 hours a year. We do get expenses but they are are just enough to buy you lunch. Often I find myself subsidising my own free time.

BollockSnot3 karma

The quickest way to change harmful and pointless laws is to stop enforcing them. Why do you enforce laws that are unjust?

potcop7 karma

Good question and it is certainly a moral dilemma I am sure every officer has faced. I suppose the need to enforce those laws that are just and necessary outweigh the few that may be considered unjust.

potcop3 karma

Thanks kind people for the gold!

RandomUnfunnyName3 karma

Do you have any actual research to back up your position or is this just a loose opinion? Not trying to give you shit or anything, but too many people that aren't authorities on a subject matter are invited by debate shows to express themselves as authorities just because they work in a field related to the subject matter.

potcop5 karma

I'm not going to sift through and reference papers right now simply because I'm trying to answer as many questions as possible (and I no longer have access to google scholar papers). I did however take a politics degree at the University of Nottingham in which I studied UK government drug policy. I also researched opiate supply in Afghanistan and the impact it was having on communities there. So I consider myself well-informed.

captainsmacks2 karma

Why do you think this makes you worthy of an AMA?

potcop4 karma

I don't consider myself worthy of anything. There is clearly a lot of pent-up public opinion on this matter and so it seemed like a great opportunity to further this debate. This isn't about hippies wanting to smoke weed, people are genuinely being killed as a result of bad drug policy in the UK.

acorn2221 karma

How much hate have you recieved for asking for this?

potcop4 karma

Extremely little. 98% of comments have been supportive. It has certainly given me the courage to continue talking about the matter in spite of likely repercussions.

sqrrl1010 karma

Do you feel guilty for being involved in the enforcement of laws that you believe to be unjust?

potcop6 karma

coincidence

I've certainly had mixed emotions before when dealing with addicts with serious mental health issues or those who have been the subject of abuse in their past. These people are often extremely vulnerable and whilst at times it may be the safest place a police cell or criminal conviction is not going to help them get better.

UrbanManc-2 karma

Is it not the case that you’re just an attention seeking sad individual that will soon be removed from their position as an ‘unpaid police volunteer’ ?

Is it also the case that those that promote leniency with regards pot are abusers themselves ?

In addition is it the case that you’ve opened a twitter account to take advantage of your notoriety?

How long do you think it will be before you’re removed from your position?

potcop3 karma

You could take that interpretation. Alternatively you could see me as someone who has conviction and having been given platform is willing to use it to further discussion and do good? I actually had no intention of getting on TV. When you join the audience for Question Time you are requested to submit a question that may be selected and read out in the programme. I purposefully took the decision not to even submit a question as I did not want to draw attention to myself. It just so happened that a very important topic was raised, of which I have experience, that the panel completely failed to address. As for my twitter, it was opened way before this all blew up. It's a tool to further debate - why not use it?

The likelihood is I will be removed from my position but to be honest I'm fine with that. If anything it'll further the debate.

stickyblack-3 karma

How the hell can you draw a correlation between Cannabis & Knife crime ?

potcop5 karma

Knife crime is often driven by turf wars between individuals and gangs fighting for the right to sell in certain areas. Other times it is related to debts accumulated trough drug use. Whilst it is true they sell all sorts of drugs cannabis is the low-hanging fruit and therefore any change in policy should target this first. Measure and understand the effects and then make a decision on other drugs.

PM_ME_ANYTHING_FUN-4 karma

Would you consider legalizing knife ownership first? I love in Washington state, USA where both are legal to own.

potcop32 karma

I'd be dead against legalising knife ownership. In the UK we are allowed to have a knife so long as you have good reason e.g. a carpenter can have a carpenters knife on them. The only other reason you would want to carry a knife is for self-defence purposes. Given just how fragile and stupid humans can be when put under stress I don't think that would lead to many positive outcomes.