KNOWN for his no-nonsense style and radical approach to policing, Durham Police’s top cop will be remembered as a vocal advocate for reforming drugs policy and for attempts to crack down on organised crime gangs.

After almost seven years in the top job at Durham Police, Chief Constable Mike Barton has announced he will retiring later this year.

On taking up the role in 2012, he promised an “Al Capone approach” to smashing organised crime, saying he took inspiration in the way the notorious prohibition era mafioso was brought down by tax evasion, rather than bootlegging.

And since the beginning of his tenure he has attracted attention for his advocacy for drugs reform – calling for both the use of heroin assisted treatment and the legalisation of cannabis.

The fact that heroin assisted treatment is still not used routinely is a source of “sadness and deep frustration,” he said in his resignation letter.

But he added that he thought opinion on the matter was changing.

The Northern Echo:

Mike Barton at Durham Police's Bikewise event

He said: “I hope the next generation of chiefs can join our rank and file colleagues in leading enlightened and learned thinking based on our experience of the real world.”

Mr Barton, who has been an officer for 39 years, joined Durham Police in 2008 as assistant chief constable before becoming deputy chief constable the following year.

Born into a Lancashire farming family, Mr Barton began his career in his home county, becoming a police constable in 1980 in Blackpool, where his beat included the resort’s famous Golden Mile.

A law graduate from Newcastle University, he worked his way up through the ranks, earning a reputation as a tough detective and forward-thinking innovator.

In 2014, he was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

During his time in charge there has been a growing focus on restorative justice and has seen the development of the Checkpoint programme, aimed at reducing the number of repeat offenders.

During his three years as Crime Operations lead for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Mr Barton oversaw the strengthening of the national Holmes computer network; development of the Police National Database including facial recognition techniques and the Schengen Information System, which allows law enforcement officers across Europe to share information quickly.

But it was in the field of drug policy that Mr Barton became best known on the national stage, joining Mr Hogg in calling for a more “meaningful” debate around the issue.

In his resignation letter, Mr Barton said he hoped for “sensible conversations about how the current approach to controlled drugs is not working.

“It remains a lingering sadness and deep frustration that heroin-assisted treatment for heroin addicts is not de rigueur”.

He added: “My colleagues in Durham Constabulary are justly proud of the way they successfully tackle serious and organised crime, but that fight would be so much more effective if we could, in some way, staunch dealers’ illicit income stream.”

Mr Barton said he was leaving the police with mixed feelings.

The Northern Echo:

Mike Barton took part in a CEO sleepout event at Durham Cathedral

He added: “All the achievements in the force are the achievements of local people, our partners and our staff.

“I see the future positively, when we all work together for the common good we achieve so much more.

“Ultimately, it is local people in neighbourhoods, supported by local officers who will create the harmonious society in which young people can thrive.”

In his resignation letter, Mr Barton praised the “pioneering” work done at Durham Police, attempts to keep “unhelpful” red tape at bay and “world leading state of the art in-house software”, describing the pace of change and improvement as “breathtaking”.

In a letter accepting Mr Barton’s decision to retire, Ron Hogg, Durham’s Police and Crime Commissioner said: “I think it fair to say that with you as Chief Constable, there has rarely been a dull moment.

“As an aspiring farmer you know only too well that you reap what you sow and you should be immensely proud of the benefits our communities have reaped under your tenure”.

Mr Barton will step down on June 7.