Police increase patrols in Ludlow as 'perception of drugs crimes rise'
Police insist that 'there is not a significant issue with illegal drugs' in a south Shropshire town where the issue has been causing concerns.
Councillors and residents in Ludlow say that concern and anger has been growing in recent weeks and that it has led to an "increase in shoplifting and burglaries by addicts and dealers desperate to grab items they can sell to buy more drugs or pay their drug debts."
But the leading inspector in South Shropshire says that the force does not underestimate the "impact of a perception of an increase in drugs offences can have on the feeling of safety in the area".
And visible patrols of officers have increased as officers ask for the public to report issues.
Councillor Tracey Huffer, Shropshire Councillor for Ludlow East, said: "I’ve lived in Ludlow all my life. There has always been some drug use and trading, but it appears to be worse than ever.
“There are whole families, parents and children peddling and using drugs.
“Communities are talking about this. Councillors are talking about this. Children are talking about it.
"Health professionals are concerned that the problem is escalating out of control. The only people who seem not to be talking about it is the police."
Councillor Huffer added: “Some of the thefts are blatant. I witnessed a known thief running out of Boots holding a box of deodorant.
"That would have probably been sold for drug money. Thieves in supermarkets are not often challenged even when there are security staff.
“When there is a request for a police presence, officers are called out from Leominster or Bridgnorth. There are few police based in Ludlow’s police station.
“There is a significant danger of locking young people into a life of criminality. Of lives being wasted. Of families being wrecked.”
Andy Boddington is Shropshire Councillor for Ludlow North added: "We have not seen many police on the streets in Ludlow for a very long while.
"The police used to patrol areas they knew. They knew the communities and the people they were there to protect. They could spot the people who were on the wrong side of the law.
“Now police are only seen in their cars, going through town at speed but not pacing the beat. They don’t seem to know Ludlow any more.
“We need an increased police presence to get on top of this problem before it gets worse."
Councillor Boddington asked for a meeting to be held before Christmas and include the police and crime commissioner John Campion drawing together local police, health professionals, youth workers and key councillors, along with traders to agree an action plan to reduce drug use and criminality.
He added: “It is vital this meeting happens before Christmas. The desperation for drugs over the festive period will come at a time when many medical professionals are on leave, when pharmacies are closed and when there is limited mental health support.
“An empty town centre will be an easy target for those that want to smash windows to grab items they can sell for a quick fix.”
Inspector Ingrid Tozer from the South Shropshire Safer Neighbourhood Team said: “We can reassure the community that there is not a significant issue with illegal drugs in the town.
"We take a proactive and intelligence-led approach to tackling illegal drug use.
"Targeting prolific offenders, we have issued Criminal Behaviour Orders prohibiting people from entering certain parts of the town and we also address offending often linked to illegal drug use, such as shoplifting.
"This year we also launched a Neighbourhood Crime Fighting Team for Shropshire who support us addressing specific local issues."
But Inspector Tozer said they have increased patrols across the town as they do not underestimate a "perception" of an increase in drugs offences.
Inspector Tozer said: “We do not, however, underestimate the impact that the perception of an increase in drugs offences can have on the feeling of safety in the area; we know that seeing officers on the street provides a lot of reassurance. In response to the community’s concerns, we’ve increased patrols across the town, and we’re committed to being as visible as we possibly can.
“I ask that the public continue to work with us by reporting issues to us; we can, will and do act on the information given to us.
"The easiest way to do this is on our website under the ‘Report A Crime’ section at West Mercia Police.
"Alternatively, if you have information about drugs and drugs supply and do not want to speak to police, you can report information anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or visit the website."
The West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner's office declined to comment.