New operational drug policing models: Time for a new focus?

John Fitzgerald1
1University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

On a daily basis, law enforcement balances operational models that range from intelligence-led disruption and major drug investigations to referral/drug diversion. Operational models need to be responsive to drug markets, organizational needs and rapidly changing policy conditions. This paper emerges from a policy development process in Victoria, a desktop review of diversion programs and a series of policy roundtable discussions with key policy makers and law enforcement personnel. Drug market conditions have changed. The dramatic rise in methamphetamine policing from 2011, demonstrates the capacity of police nationally to mobilise around specific policy imperatives. New challenges for drug policing arise from marked increases in harm associated with heroin and prescribed opioids; the emergence of online drug markets, medicinal cannabis, new harm reduction interventions and a susceptibility of the public to drug panics. There is recent Government interest to strengthen diversion. It has been 10 years since Hughes and Ritter published a summary of Australian drug diversion programs. In 2008 there were 51 diversion programs operating in Australia. The majority of diversion programs delivered counselling-based services to naïve drug users. The emergence of wrap-around services in South Australia, NSW and Victoria, indicate an appetite to do more than offer counselling to naïve drug users. A recent Victorian Government response to a Parliamentary inquiry included a commitment to strengthen drug diversion programs. The shifting policing, market, and policy landscapes suggest a need for the development of new and complementary operational drug policing models designed to meet significant current and future challenges.


Associate Professor John Fitzgerald is an expert in drug policy at Criminology, the University of Melbourne. He was previously a CEO at VicHealth and a board director at Victoria’s Northern Hospital. Most recently he was an embedded researcher providing academic oversight to the development of a Victoria Police Operational Drug Plan. Rick Nugent is Assistant Commissioner of Victoria’s Eastern Region and manages the drugs portfolio at Victoria Police. He recently led the Victoria Police contribution to the 2018 Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into drug law reform and forms part of the governance structure for the newly-established Medically Supervised Injecting Centre.v


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