Police target schools as anti-drugs crime campaign enters new phase

POLICE are targeting Borders schools as the next stage of Operation Goal kicks off.

The anti-drugs initiative will see officers attend schools across the region before the end of the year, and discuss the consequences of using and dealing in substances such as heroin, cocaine and cannabis.

And partner agencies NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council will also be involved, encouraging children to ask any questions or voice any concerns they have relating to drugs.

Operation Goal was the culmination of months of intelligence gathering and saw more than 100 police officers from across the Lothian and Borders force raid homes in Galashiels, Hawick, Kelso, Melrose and Selkirk during a six-week period this summer.

SBC leader David Parker said: “Education is clearly a key part of tackling the problem and I’m especially pleased that police officers will be visiting all of our schools to interact directly with the children.

“The council is really pleased with the results of Operation Goal so far, and we remain committed to working closely with Lothian and Borders Police and NHS Borders as it enters a new phase.

“By engaging with local communities and providing the necessary assistance and information to them, we can prevent people from going down this dark path, while also supporting those already affected by drug and substance issues.”

In total, 54 people have been charged under the Misuse of Drugs Act following the raids – which saw thousands of pounds worth of Class A drugs seized – with seven people currently in jail.

A series of trials are also scheduled to start at the end of this month.

Following the operation, a number of issues such as the cycle of addiction and the protection of vulnerable people, including children, were identified as essential areas to address, as well as the need to bring drug dealers to justice.

As a result, focus has now switched to diversion and intervention, starting off with the school visits.

The police say a range of specialist support services are available to those currently dealing with an addiction and their families, and information on overcoming substance abuse is being provided to anyone seeking assistance.

But more arrests could yet be made, as detectives gather further information on drugs activities in the Borders.

Detective Chief Inspector Amanda McGrath, who is leading the campaign, said: “Operation Goal is a long-term project to not only minimise, but eradicate the scourge of drugs within Scottish Borders communities.

“More than 50 people have been brought to justice so far and whenever we receive more information about others involved in drug crime, we will take swift and robust action against them.

“However, tackling the root problems associated with drugs goes much deeper than just removing the dealers from the community.

“It is essential that we educate and deter the public from substance abuse as early as possible and we will carry out various engagement activities with schools and other groups to achieve this.

“Our partners at NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council play a pivotal role in this new phase of Operation Goal, and the support and guidance they can provide to our communities will further assist the ongoing efforts to eliminate the devastating impact of drugs.”

Dr Eric Baijal, director of public health for NHS Borders and SBC, added: “This initiative continues the good joint work of agencies towards preventing substance misuse and minimising its impact on health and social wellbeing in Borders.

“The message is simple. If you or your family are involved in substance misuse, this is an opportunity to change your life.

“Help is available and there is a range of confidential support services available for adults and young people across the Borders who wish to seek help for a drug problem.”

The Borders top policeman defended Operation Goal in July after suggestions the initiative would have little affect.

Critics also believed using more than 100 police men and women, many from Edinburgh and the Lothians, was not cost effective, especially when £300million worth of cuts need to be made across Scotland in the next three-and-a-half years.

But local area commander, Superintendent Andrew Allan, told TheSouthern in July: “One or two comments have suggested our action will not change very much about the underlying issues of addiction. That is exactly why the Alcohol and Drug Partnership (run alongside NHS Borders and Scottish Borders Council) has also been involved, both in the planning and delivery of this operation.

“We routinely work with these partners to try and steer people towards support services they may need and this is a significant part of the current operation.

“The support services in the Borders are good and I would encourage people using drugs to take this opportunity to get the help that is available. Operation Goal has not finished.”