You don't always need to be in uniform to help in your community
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Did you know the force has a role dedicated to supporting people who misuse drugs and alcohol?
The Substance Misuse Officer (SMO) looks at how the force can best support and positively impact people in our communities who misuse substances.
James Edmondston is Leicestershire’s SMO. He works to help reduce policing demand relating to these areas, support the recovery of people in addiction and supports partners to increase awareness and education of the dangers of misusing drugs and alcohol.
Prior to joining the force two years ago, James worked as a prison officer for ten years. His role expanded seeing him becoming a drugs counsellor for prisoners. This role equipped him with vast experience in dealing with people in the grips of addiction and also introduced him to local treatment services and the recovery community.
With a caseload of up to 50 at a time, James supported people during all stages of their sentences and their addiction through psychosocial interventions, one-to-one sessions, group working and welfare checks. This was part of a successful pilot scheme which ended after four years seeing James return to prison officer duties, prompting his decision to both complete a master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice and also to look for a new role to use his skills.
James’s role with the police combines his knowledge from working with people who use substances, local treatment services and those within the recovery community to help train officers on the ground who often come into contact with people suffering with addiction.
As the SMO, James works closely with local charities and community rehabilitation facilities, such as Dear Albert based at the Stairway Project in Leicester, which helps people to address their substance use.
One of James’ biggest inspirations is the man who established the service, Jon Roberts - a successful business owner who lost decades of his life to addiction. Once Jon found the support he needed, he turned his life around, re-connected with his family, went to university to train as a drug counsellor and now uses his own lived experience to support others locally to overcome their addictions.
Educating young people about the dangers of drugs and alcohol forms another large part of James’ role. His work sees him visiting numerous schools, colleges and universities in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, frequently with partner agencies such as Turning Point, one of Leicester’s drug and alcohol services, and often also with Jon Roberts in tow to tell his own story of drug addiction and recovery.
Jon Roberts, Director of Dear Albert, supporting a Leicestershire Police school workshop
Instead of simply telling the young people that ‘drugs are bad’ during one sided communications, these sessions allow for honest conversations, question and answer sessions and signposting to where help is available if they or someone they know finds themselves having issues with a substance.
James and the forces Children and Young Persons Officer recently produced a webinar in partnership with National Online Safety (NOS) which was made available nationally to schools - advising them of the risks of drugs and the online world. This was the first time that the NOS had collaborated to produce such an important online tool.
The current restrictions also called on James’ experiences to support the force and partners to establish the impact of Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown on the local drugs market, seeking to identify potential emerging threats and areas of concern.
Recently, James was contacted by a student from one of the schools he had previously visited. The student, who is a cadet with St John’s Ambulance, wanted to share what he had learned during James’ visit so they set up an online Q & A session which over 30 other cadets attended virtually. Most of them were in the East Midlands but some were as far away as Essex proving how far James’ work has spread!
The question of how drugs and alcohol are portrayed in the media is often raised. James’ first response is “it’s not realistic and very unhelpful”. “Stoner movies represent smoking cannabis as sheer fun and humorous without any consequences, alcohol is so commonplace that seeing people drinking without limits is almost normal. People then think this is ok and not harmful but the reality is very different.
“When spice or mamba is written about in the papers, users are usually described as ‘zombies’ – but they are human beings, with families and a personal story, this negativity is wholly unhelpful and ultimately disrespectful. They’re not choosing to be in that position. The way we, the police (and our partner agencies), treat people with addiction is key to being able to help people. The stigma of being a substance user or an addict is a huge barrier to getting people into treatment.
“When working with someone who uses substances it is important they know their actions are not condoned and may carry custodial sentences, but also that help is available to reduce potential harm and ultimately stay alive. Every person battling addiction has the potential to recover and stay that way.”
James recently led the local Alcohol Awareness Week campaign which promoted responsible drinking and education around healthy alcohol consumption. This campaign received vast engagement within Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland as well as gaining national recognition from the country’s leading alcohol charity, Alcohol Change UK.
A session being run in a school during Alcohol Awareness Week
There are also a variety of other projects in the pipeline for James to continue to support the way Leicestershire Police work with people who are battling addictions and ways to reduce wider drug related harm in our communities.