The Chief Executive of the Crime and Drugs Partnership for Nottingham, Alan Given, won awards from the Queen for his service to the Metropolitan police before taking on his current role. We’ve tracked him down after a year in post, during which crime has fallen and more people than ever are receiving support for drug problems. Armed with questions from the LeftLion forum crew and a very old skool dictaphone we went to find out what goes on behind the scenes…
So how did you get your job?
Well I was in the Metropolitan Police for 32 years and felt it was time to retire. This job became available and the challenge of the job appealed to me.
Do you enjoy your job?
I do, yes, I think this is a fantastic job. It was a nice step between doing something completely different but still within what I know. Working in partnership we can deal with a broader range of issues and get a better feel for what the public think is really important in their local areas.
How do you like Nottingham in general?
I’d heard differing opinions on Nottingham before I moved here, Some people hold the view that Nottingham is a violent place and not really going anywhere. But when I got here, I was really surprised how nice it was… and just basically fell in love with the place. I think a lot of the things people say are just old thinking, they’re not true now. It’s a young city and it brings lots of young problems, but that’s not going to be any different anywhere else. It’s vibrant and you just see from the skyline of building work that people really are investing in this city.
What do you think about the large number of students in Nottingham?
I think it’s great; students are the soul of Nottingham and bring a richness and diversity to the city. Of course the sheer volume of young people studying and living in the city raises its own issues but these are far outweighed by the benefits that the students bring.
As a civilian, exactly how far can you go to defend yourself against crime? If someone runs off with your gear, are you allowed to smack them?
(Laughs) Well, you can take any reasonable action to defend yourself and your property. Say you’re out there with your friends and somebody attacks you, you can take any action to stop them. But if you manage to stop them, hold them on the ground and decide ‘While I’m down here, I’m going to beat you to a pulp’ you’ve gone beyond self-defence. But if they continue to fight, you are allowed to fight back but again only using reasonable force.
Why do you think Nottingham, not Leicester, Derby or Birmingham, has such a reputation with gun crime?
Nottingham’s name being associated with gun crime is like a dog that’s given a bad name, that bad name tends to stick regardless. In reality gun crime is not statistically higher in Nottingham than many major cities in the country, but the perception given by the national media sometimes is. In 2003 there were 52 discharges, when I say that I mean actual firing, of firearms. By last year that was down to 11. Unfortunately last year someone was killed and one death is a tragedy for all concerned. The efforts of Nottinghamshire Police in eradicating gun crime of any description are relentless. Nottingham isn’t and never should have been labelled the ‘Gun Crime Capital’.
Do you have any schemes that help people who are at risk of being drawn into crime?
We have many, some are targeted at people who are already engaged in the criminal justice system or on the fringes of criminal involvement. We have projects that work out in the community where young people are at most risk or under most pressure of becoming involved in crime and of course we have organisations like the youth service who work alongside young people on a daily basis. Our aim is to divert them away from crime, offer alternatives where they can have opportunities to learn skills, talents and gain self-respect, and give them choices.
What is done about the harder drugs scene that we don’t normally hear about?
We have a very vibrant and well-resourced drug unit. Drugs affect people in different ways and impact on a cross section of society. The drug services in Nottingham have to respond to all these needs, it isn’t a one size fits all. As well as offering treatment and support to those who have drug problems we also need to be dealing with the drug-dealers. Targeting the odd person with a little bit of cannabis is unhelpful and doesn’t bring crime down. Dealers aren’t stupid people, in response; the Police in Nottingham are constantly changing and improving their operations. The quality of the intelligence we use to catch dealers has improved over the years. If you’re dealing drugs in Nottingham there is a very good chance you’ll be caught.
What’s your opinion on prescribing heroin to drug addicts?
There are a small number of people in Nottingham currently being prescribed diamorphine (pharmaceutical heroin) and that decision would always be made by a consultant. The treatment offered to a dependent drug user often involves the prescription of substitute drugs to help stabilise and or detox the person. Ultimately we aim to point people towards drug free lifestyles. Drug treatment in Nottingham is set up to support users and family members at all stages of the person’s addiction and recovery. People who are drug addicts don’t necessarily want to be in the situation they find themselves in. It is our job to support them, overcoming a drug problem can be a complicated and often long process. Treatment is voluntary and the addict has to be willing to give up drugs and engage in treatment.
What do you think of the situation of overcrowded prisons?
The prison population has risen to over 80,000 which is the highest it’s ever been, but I’m not sure if building more prisons is the answer. We really need to look at the type of people in prison and be careful about how many young people we lock up. If you keep children out of crime by the time they are about twenty, the chances are they’ll have a crime-free life. If you have people committing crime from the age of twelve or thirteen they’re often caught up in the cycle of crime and prison until their late thirties. That’s a big chunk of life that’s gone. We need to intervene early, and ask what is causing these problems and put in place the resources to support the youngster and their families
Do you think schools should encourage kids to take on further education or vocational training to stop them getting into trouble?
Absolutely. Earning money and gaining independence is a healthy aspiration; people will always want nice clothes, holidays, cars etc. It’s our responsibility to give them the opportunity to train and earn money in a field they are interested in, because academic subjects don’t always suit everyone. It’s about empowering young people to make informed choices.