Fears that cocaine might make its way to nightspots in Omagh town and district has prompted the local PSNI to embark on its first-ever proactive campaign to heighten awareness of its ability to detect the substance and stamp out its supply.
Recent huge seizures in other large populated areas – such as Dungannon and Londonderry – has reinforced the belief that this drug is never too far away. Like most parts of the country, West Tyrone is not immune to the problems caused by illegal substances and its associated criminality in its neighbourhoods.
Cocaine, which is also known as coke, Charlie, draw, flake or snow, comes as a white powder and as it’s expensive, it may be mixed with anything else that is white and powdery. In that way drug dealers can fool their 'customers' and make a bigger profit.
Recently, however, the PSNI Omagh Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPT) has been using a new cocaine wipe in their battle against the spread of the drug. Cocaine wipes are really simple and effective. They are ideal for use in pubs and clubs where the licensee is concerned about cocaine usage on their premises. These easy-to-use wipes have been deployed to spot check toilets - the place where users most commonly prepare and snort cocaine. The wipes are swabbed over areas such as toilet cisterns and seats to detect traces of the drug – with results in seconds.
According to Sergeant Johnny Hamill, Omagh NPT, cocaine wipes are a cost-effective way for local licensees to make sure that their premises are not being used to take the drug.
"This is important as not tackling a drug problem in your pub could result in a criminal conviction and loss of your premises licence," he said.
Throughout September the Omagh unit focused on drugs and drug use and part of a number of initiatives was the use of these cocaine wipes.
"We are aware illegal drugs are available and from various surveys done we recognise it's an issue that's of great concern. We wanted to try to do something about that and work in co-operation with the community to try and make sure all illegal drugs are removed from circulation. The idea was to warn people about the dangers of drug use and to try and take as many of the substances out of circulation as we possibly can. There had been some information that drugs were available and used openly in certain outlets."
He explained that the cocaine wipes gave a blue or purple indication once a trace of the drug was discovered. "We contacted a lot of the licensed premises around Omagh and surrounding pubs and clubs in the district area from Dromore-Fintona out to Gortin. We have good relationships with all of the licensed premises. Obviously we would turn up unannounced and indicate to the staff and management what we wanted to do and they were all very co-operative. None of them said they believed they had any issues and were happy to allow us on to the premises to conduct these checks in their presence."
Sergeant Hamill said the police believed in working in partnership with any premises to deal with the problem, if it existed.
"The cocaine wipes are professional wipes and we know they do work. We turned up to the venues unannounced and during business hours - not after someone has cleaned the premises. We thought this was the best chance to get positive results if there had been any drugs used. We checked for any signs of illicit drug use. If we found anything our policy is to advise the premises what we had done and work with them, making sure their staff were aware this was happening. This would give them an opportunity to tighten up procedures and be on their guard for suspicious activity or people and just make sure working as a community and in partnership with the premises, we would be able to stamp this out.
"We swabbed toilet seats, toilet cisterns, the areas around sinks and taps and I'm delighted to say there were no drugs found."
Sergeant Hamill said they were not acting on any new information that cocaine was a problem in Omagh or the area in general – it was just to let premises know that they could make this test for cocaine available to them if they needed it.
He stressed that they pointed out they were always keen at all times to work with staff and management.
"This was not a one-off, it will happen on a regular basis. Because we had the monthly focus on drugs we had a more concerted effort to get around as many premises as we could, but if anyone thinks they have an issue or even if they just want a check, we're more than happy at the Neighbourhood Policing Team to come out and do these checks for them," he said.