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

Policing people who use drugs across the globe: How does Australia compare?

Dr Caitlin Hughes1, Dr Monica Barratt1, Assoc Pfof Jason Ferris2, Dr  Larissa Maier3, Professor Adam Winstock4
1National Drug And Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW, Randwick, Australia, 2University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, 3University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland, 4University College London, London, UK

Drug law enforcement subsumes the lion’s share of drug policy expenditure across the globe. Fuelled by knowledge that much of this investment is ineffective or counter-productive there have been increasing calls for cross-national comparisons to identify where policing approaches differ and what approaches may be more effective. Using a new drugs police module added to the 2017 Global Drug Survey this study provides the first cross-national analysis of the incidence and nature of illicit drug-related police encounters in 26 countries including the UK, USA, Australia, Germany, Italy, Canada and New Zealand. A total of 49,869 people who had recently used illicit drugs completed the module. Key variables assessed included the incidence and frequency of drug-related police encounters in the last 12 months that involved: a) being stopped and searched; b) encountering a drug detection dog; c) being given a caution or warning; and d) being charged and arrested. We show that drug-related police encounters were more common in some nations, including in Italy, the UK and Australia. Types of policing encountered further differed. For example, Australia was one of three countries with the highest incidence of drug detection dog encounters. Importantly, multi-variate logistic regressions show that cross-national differences in drug policing remain after controlling for drug use prevalence and the number of police personnel in each nation. The findings suggest that the policing of people who use drugs may be more intense in some parts of the globe, Australia included. Implications for research, policy and practice will be highlighted.


Dr Caitlin Hughes is a criminologist and Senior Research Fellow at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, UNSW. She works as part of the multi-disciplinary Drug Policy Modelling Program (DPMP) which seeks to improve Australian drug policy by identifying what works, translating research evidence and engaging directly with policy makers.

Drug Muling for Love

Prof. Monica Whitty1
1University Of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

In 2014 Maria Exposto (an Australian grandmother) was arrested in Malaysia, accused of drug trafficking. She had been caught with 1.1 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine at Kuala Lumpur airport. As the expert witness on this case my testimony helped the judge to understand that Maria had been a victim of a romance scam and it was reasonable, given how the scam operates, to argue that she was oblivious to being involved in drug trafficking. This paper draws from my extensive work on romance scams and other types of cyberscams (e.g., Buchanan & Whitty, 2014; Whitty, under preparation; in press_a; in press_b; 2018,  2015a,b, 2013, Whitty & Buchanan, 2016, 2012; Whitty & Joinson, 2009) to provide a framework that explains how victims are drawn into romance scams and unknowingly become involved as drug mules. I consider 5 cases of romance scam drug mules cases and extend upon my Scammers’ Techniques model to explain how victims are manipulated by cybercriminals to comply with their requests. This involves a stage approach in addition to drawing from psychological theories on persuasion, control, and decision-making and theories and research in media and communication on hyper-personal relationships and trust and deceit in the online environment to explain how a person might be tricked into believing that were complying with the requests of a friend or an online lover that were completely unrelated to drug trafficking.


Professor Monica Whitty is a Chair in Human Factors in Cybersecurity at The University of Melbourne and holds a part-time Chair at The University of Warwick in the GCHQ Cyber Security Centre. She has been researching online behaviour and online security for over 20 years. She is the author of 5 books (including, Truth, Lies and Trust on the Internet, Routledge) with another 2 forthcoming (with Oxford University Press) and over 100 refereed publications. Prof. Whitty is currently still leading a large grant in the UK titled: ‘Detecting and Preventing Mass-Marketing Fraud’ (EPSRC) and a grant on e-safety (UoM).


Mapping the terrain of engagement with darknet drug cryptomarkets in New Zealand

Ms Lucy Moss-Mason1
1Victoria University Of Wellington, , New Zealand

There has been significant media attention dedicated to cryptomarkets such as Silk Road over the past seven years, providing academics with a unique opportunity to witness the lengths some individuals go to access drugs under regimes of prohibition. The darknet refers to an area of the internet that cannot be accessed without specialised anonymising technologies such as Tor. The relative anonymity afforded by the darknet has led to it being utilised by individuals who wish to engage in, and discuss, illegal and stigmatised activities. The darknet is home to a community of established cryptomarkets which facilitate the trade of goods and services, including illicit drugs. This alternative to conventional in-person drug supply arrangements is of particular significance in situations where individuals are reluctant or unable to purchase drugs through conventional markets, either as a result of their social positioning or geographical location. There has been emergent academic discussion about darknet cryptomarkets such as Silk Road. However, no prior New Zealand-specific research appears to have been undertaken. A series of qualitative, semi-structured interviews were undertaken with New Zealanders who had ordered drugs over the darknet, and this was followed by a thematic analysis of the interview content. The research that is presented focuses on the experiences of New Zealand consumers and dealers who have purchased illicit drugs through the darknet. It is argued that New Zealand occupies a noteworthy position in the cryptomarket ecosystem, as New Zealand’s conventional drug market is constrained by its small population and geographical isolation. This has increased the appeal of cryptomarket drug purchases for some New Zealanders, and interview participants refer to the geographical isolation of New Zealand and the constraints of its conventional drug market as influential in their engagement with cryptomarkets.



Lucy is a criminology student from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Her broad research interests are centred on drug policy and the implications of prohibitionist rhetoric, with a specific interest in the connection between cultures of drug use and their intersections with identities and digital technologies. She is currently completing a Masters thesis focusing on New Zealanders’ interactions with drug cryptomarkets.


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