Crime on rise neAr sAfe drug site

MPs hear that as users re­lo­cate to Belt­line fa­cil­ity, so have deal­ers

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - SHAWN LO­GAN — With files from Meghan Potkins slo­[email protected]­media.com On Twit­ter: @ShawnLo­gan403

Cal­gary’s first su­per­vised con­sump­tion site has prompted a mi­gra­tion of drug users and deal­ers to the city ’s Belt­line, spark­ing “sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns” among nearby res­i­dents, Cal­gary’s act­ing po­lice chief told fed­eral leg­is­la­tors.

On Tues­day, in­terim po­lice Chief Steve Bar­low ap­peared be­fore the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on Health to dis­cuss the grow­ing ef­fect of metham­phetamine on the com­mu­nity in re­cent years, blam­ing the drug on a spike in crime and vi­o­lence.

Asked by Man­i­toba MP Doug Ey­olf­son, an emer­gency-room physi­cian, about the ef­fect of Cal­gary’s Safe­works site at the Shel­don M. Chu­mir Health Cen­tre on the sur­round­ing com­mu­nity, Bar­low said the area has be­come a mag­net for those in­volved in the drug life­style, prompt­ing the force to boost re­sources in re­sponse.

“We’ve ac­tu­ally put more mem­bers down in that area — the com­mu­nity has sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns with the one area of our safe con­sump­tion site and it’s to do with the pop­u­la­tion that has now mi­grated into that area,” he told com­mit­tee mem­bers.

“The big­gest is­sue we have is that our drug deal­ers have now, of course, learned where their clients have moved to, and that’s one of the big­gest is­sues we’re deal­ing with right now is hav­ing to ... ar­rest our way out of that part of the is­sue.”

In Oc­to­ber, the Safe­works site saw 6,204 vis­its, eclips­ing the pre­vi­ous high mark set in May by a full 1,000. The fa­cil­ity saw an av­er­age of 196 clients a day in Oc­to­ber, also the high­est num­ber recorded since it opened at the end of Oc­to­ber 2017.

Statis­tics for Novem­ber were not avail­able.

Along with the rise in client vis­its, po­lice have recorded an in­crease in vi­o­lent crime and so­cial dis­or­der calls within a 500-me­tre ra­dius of Safe­works.

From Jan­uary to Oc­to­ber, the area saw a 23-per-cent in­crease in so­cial dis­or­der calls com­pared with the same pe­riod last year, as well as a 17-per-cent uptick over the three-year av­er­age. About twothirds of those calls were re­lated to un­wanted guests or sus­pi­cious peo­ple.

Mean­while, vi­o­lent crime calls in the zone were at 139 as of the end of Oc­to­ber, likely to sur­pass the 142 reached in all of 2017.

The pre­vi­ous two years saw 83 recorded calls in 2016 and 84 in 2015.

Cal­gary po­lice Dis­trict 1 Insp. Rob David­son, whose Ram­say-based sta­tion pa­trols Cal­gary’s down­town, in­clud­ing the safe con­sump­tion site, said the past few months have seen a spike in crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity in the area around Safe­works.

“It’s only in the last 10 weeks or so we’ve started to see an in­crease in spe­cific crim­i­nal trends that are closer to the Shel­don Chu­mir fa­cil­ity,” he said, not­ing they’ve seen a rise in car prowl­ings, ve­hi­cle thefts and other prop­erty crimes in the im­me­di­ate vicin­ity.

“We’re try­ing to fig­ure out why that specif­i­cally would be, but we’ve also seen amount of us­age at the site has also gone up sig­nif­i­cantly.”

To ad­dress the soar­ing crime rate, David­son said po­lice have boosted their pres­ence in the area —both overtly and covertly—in an ef­fort to stymie drug deal­ers tar­get­ing the vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion that has flocked to the site.

“We’re see­ing a lot of open-air drug traf­fick­ing and peo­ple try­ing to sell stolen prop­erty,” said David­son, adding they be­gan send­ing more re­sources to the area be­tween Au­gust and Septem­ber.

“We found we had some very bla­tant drug traf­fick­ing in the area and we hit that very hard. Our fo­cus has been very much on the sup­ply and dis­tri­bu­tion of metham­phetamine.”

Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi said while the deadly ef­fects of opi­oids such as fen­tanyl has been a ma­jor fo­cus, the rise of meth, which is read­ily avail­able for as lit­tle as $3 to $5 a hit, has cre­ated a new kind of chal­lenge for law en­force­ment.

“There are many rea­sons for that, one of them by the way is that one of the ef­fects of meth is it keeps you warm and it helps you stay awake, so for peo­ple who don’t feel safe at night on the streets or in the shel­ters, this is some­thing they can turn to,” he told re­porters Tues­day.

“But it also leads to un­pre­dictabil­ity, it leads to some­times vi­o­lent be­hav­iour and it leads to real so­cial prob­lems, so it is ab­so­lutely the case that we’ve got to have a real fo­cus on meth as we have on opi­oids.”

De­spite the re­cent po­lice crack­down, David­son said the tone at com­mu­nity meet­ings has been one of grow­ing dis­com­fort and fear about both crime trends and a surge in com­plaints about used nee­dle de­bris in pub­lic spa­ces.

He said con­ver­sa­tions have be­gun with com­mu­nity part­ners to bet­ter track nee­dle com­plaints and pick­ups to get a bet­ter pic­ture of the scope of the prob­lem, which is cur­rently piece­meal at best.

In the mean­time, po­lice will con­tinue to fo­cus on push­ing drug deal­ers out of the com­mu­nity and re­turn­ing a sense of com­fort to area res­i­dents, David­son said.

GAVIN YOUNG

Vis­its to the Safe­works drug in­jec­tion in Oc­to­ber rose to an av­er­age of 196 a day, the high­est num­ber since it opened in Oc­to­ber of 2017.

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