Crime on rise neAr sAfe drug site
MPs hear that as users relocate to Beltline facility, so have dealers
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.
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.