Drug busts make for great self-congratulatory social media posts for forces who need to be seen as tough on crime, but aggressive policing tactics come at a human cost…
I saw the post-house raid selfie you tweeted today. You know, the one where ten balaclava-clad men – carrying weapons – ran into an average-looking terraced house. It looked like you smashed through the front door to get inside.
Of course, your tweet came with the usual warning for people who “peddle misery” and “profit from exploitation” – and in the thread below, there were hundreds of police officers giving you the virtual equivalent of a fist bump.
But here’s the thing, for the people who were living behind that door, life will never be the same again. The kids will cry every time a delivery guy knocks too loudly and the adults’ hearts will race in anticipation of another violent home invasion.
And if a loved one’s remanded into custody, the occupants of the house are more vulnerable than ever. So do you really think it’s ethical to flippantly tweet a selfie or video on your personal account?
It may be another exciting day out of the office to you, but for a small kid, it’s often the most traumatic moment of their youth. After all, we all know that parental imprisonment is an Adverse Childhood Experience that brings trauma, stigma and shame.
I’ve watched cops raid my family home under section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act more than once. Though they’ve never found illegal substances inside the property, I’ve been arrested; had electronic devices taken and cash seized, all without being charged for an offence. I can only assume it’s my ongoing connection with an ex-boyfriend – and school friends – in prison for class A drug importation that led to these events.
So here’s what I’m thinking when a cop shares that post-house raid selfie.
How did the defendant end up in that stressful situation?
Not everyone whose house is raided is an evil baddy living on mountains of dirty cash. And hardly anyone actually wants to risk their freedom in an illegal marketplace. A drug raid is often the culmination of years of difficult circumstances incorporating mental illness, abuse and debt.
We all know that most people who commit crime have experienced poverty and poor housing. And a total of 71 per cent of women and 48 per cent of men in prison have mental health issues.
When your colleagues raided my house for drugs, I had cancer and severe mental health problems. I’d also left an abusive relationship to become a single mum, all during a national lockdown with no SEISS or Universal Credit. So, I’m wondering if that other family is experiencing similar struggles.
Nobody is blaming you for this series of unfortunate events.
But it’s not cool that in a citizen’s hour of need, some dude is triumphantly sharing a selfie – with his biceps flexed – outside their broken front door. It’s basically the 21st-century equivalent of Mediaeval villagers thoughtlessly throwing rotten food at mothers for having a child out of wedlock.
Let’s not forget that it was socially unacceptable to have a kid outside of marriage until the 1980s. And until 2003, state schools weren’t allowed to acknowledge that homosexuality was acceptable. Perhaps society will soon decide that criminalising drug users and suppliers – and stigmatising their innocent family members – is also morally wrong.
Are there kids inside that house?
There’s a strong correlation between how a parental arrest is handled and the future relationship between a child and the police, the International Association of Police Chiefs (IAPC) says. So, I really hope – for the sake of the kids – you treated the family with respect and kindness.
Sadly, children with a negative early experience of law enforcement are statistically more likely to become victims or perpetrators of crime. It’s beneficial for officers to spend time with young people while executing a search warrant, as assistance from the police can create lasting impressions on kids of all ages, the IAPC says.
But I’ve never had a cop initiate conversation with my preschooler during or after a drugs raid. And neither have most of the families I’ve spoken to.
My four-year-old shrieks everytime she sees a uniformed officer. “The police hit mummy and pushed her to the floor. And they took my pink iPad,” she cries.
One mum tells me her preschooler has night terrors and wakes up screaming several times a night, after witnessing a house raid where his dad was arrested. And another mother says her teenage son self-harms and locks himself into the school toilets, following a raid at the family home.
There’s a small part of me that hates anyone who rejoices in this misery
It’s estimated that 80,000 kids a year witness house raids involving a parental arrest. The IACP says the forced removal of a parent has a significant effect on children, with young people often feeling exposed and vulnerable. It’s natural for a kid’s reactions to include feelings of helplessness, bitterness and anger towards the arresting officers and law enforcement in general, they note.
I can’t understand why some police officers – or bosses – think it’s okay to photograph the moment they violently enter a family home and forcibly remove one of the occupants.
You don’t see social workers taking selfies outside the house of a mum whose kids are being taken from her. And I’ve yet to come across a paramedic who brazenly snaps a picture on someone’s doorstep. So why do some cops act this way during a family’s moment of extreme vulnerability?
A West Yorkshire sargeant recently made a GIF of himself smashing through someone’s front door. And when police jubilantly share it in Twitter threads about successful drug busts, I can only imagine how a child or teenager would feel if they saw their trauma – the moment their world turned upside down – being used as entertainment.
Ironically, this drug raid is likely to increase crime
Reactive enforcement activities – including illicit substance seizures and arrests – can actually increase crime without reducing consumption or other harms, studies show. Hardly any dealers pay for drugs upfront, so there’s often a big debt after a house raid. And that bill doesn’t just go away: it still needs to be paid on time. Otherwise, things tend to get violent.
There aren’t many studies on the harms facing families in the days after a drug bust. But in my experience, this is the most dangerous time for innocent relatives. Their loved one is often in jail – unable to physically protect them – and they’re almost certain to owe cash to a bunch of people who desperately need it to pay off their own debts.
As a convicted drug supplier once told me, you don’t target the person who owes you money: that’s stupid, as you won’t get paid. It’s far more efficient to target their family members.
The occupants of the property are in huge physical danger
Thanks to that tweet, everyone knows exactly where to find the defendant’s family. Anti-drug vigilantes can shout abuse and threaten violence, while criminals further up the supply chain now have the option to physically visit to recover any debts.
Relatives frequently find themselves under immense pressure to clean up the post-arrest mess, even if they previously had no idea their loved one was supplying drugs.
If you think your Monday morning’s bad, try waking up to an Albanian organised crime boss banging on your door, politely asking to come in to discuss that outstanding £250,000.
And after you’ve smashed your way into someone’s house and boasted about it online, there’s no way they’ll call you for help when they’ve been stabbed or held hostage over a drug debt.
I hope the defendant and their family don’t sell drugs to pay these unexpected bills
It costs up to £4,000 to replace an external door that can’t be repaired. And there’s probably the kids’ iPads, mum’s work laptop and several mobile phones, all needing to be repurchased. And if one parent is imprisoned, are the kids going to be forced out of the family home when the rent or mortgage becomes unaffordable?
I’ve never been more tempted to sell drugs than in the months following the raid on my house. Cops seized my bank accounts for six months. And they took my laptop, so it was almost impossible to work.
You don’t necessarily qualify for Legal Aid if you have money or property that’s been “restrained”, even though you’re unable to access it. So in 21st-Century Britain, I – as a single mum to a two-year-old – was unable to access any qualified legal advice after my initial police interview.
Hopefully, it’s not too hard to see why some people get upset when you publicly celebrate this moment of vulnerability and trauma.
The accused person – and their family – could be facing months or years of uncertainty
There’s a Crown Court backlog of 60,000 cases right now, with many defendants in drug supply or importation cases waiting over a year between being charged and going to trial. But if the suspect is Released Under Investigation, it could be over three years before they’re even charged: that’s an awfully long time to wait to find out if you or a loved one is losing everything.
You’re losing legitimacy when you call the defendant “wicked” or “scum”
I care about my ex-boyfriend, even though he broke the law. And I know he’s not “wicked” or “scum” like you say. He’s a good person who made a questionable decision based on his personal circumstances. When you use inaccurate, stigmatising language to describe my loved one, you make it much harder for me – and my family – to trust the accuracy of what cops say.
Trauma-informed practices that prioritise safety and trust – over short-term wins – are consistently shown to reduce intergenerational crime and aid the public perception of policing, so surely everyone wins when you use a more human-oriented approach?