Social issues meeting follow-up

April 1, 2009 at 3:58 pm 6 comments

UPDATE April 2, 2009: More impressions by Yule Heibel and Davin Greenwell

Our Monday night event, On The Front Lines: Community Solutions for Homelessness and Social Issues, was a great success. A good sized crowd attended to hear the latest on policing, justice and social issues from Police Chief Jamie Graham, Councillor Charlayne Thornton-Joe, GV Coalition to End Homelessness director Jill Clements and the DVBA’s Ken Kelly.

Ken gave us an update on Downtown initiatives from the business standpoint, including the Clean Team, Con-Air, Retail C.O.P. and the Clean and Safe Committee. Charlayne and Jill got us up to speed with the Mayor’s Task Force and the Coalition including how they’ve reached the first year goal of housing 200 people.

But it was Chief Graham who received the most interest, with residents wanting answers on a diverse range of topics including jaywalking, camping in parks, open drug use and calling 911.

On the latter topic, Graham was clear: don’t hesitate to call 911 if you see something illegal or you feel someone’s safety is in question. It’s true your call will be queued and you might not get an immediate response, especially if it’s a busy time. But you need to call because this information is needed to track crime hotspots. And the Chief said, even if he were to be driving by the area by chance when the call came in he wouldn’t hesitate to investigate it himself.

Graham gave no opinion on the topic of safe injection sites, saying he would let politicians decide and he will enforce whatever law is in place.

The Times Colonist follows up on our meeting here “Police Chief: Victoria’s Drug Problem Not as Big as Some Say“:

“From experts in the field that go undercover, and trust me they are undercover to try to buy drugs, they are not there in the kind of volume you might think. When over a period of two weeks or so we end up with only 12 or 15 arrests, those numbers are really small,” Graham said.

Overall, Graham said, Victoria has a small group of hard-core drug users.

“It’s not widespread. It’s small. They’re disruptive and we know they create difficulties.”

The Times Colonist further expands on Graham’s comments in this editorial “The Real Downtown Problem“:

“Many of the issues our officers are sent to, they act almost as referees,” Graham said, adding the most common calls city police respond to are reports of alcohol-related disorder — people yelling or screaming, arguments, doors being slammed or pushing and shoving.

By comparison, a recently completed undercover operation in Victoria was hard-pressed to turn up any drugs or arrests at all. Over the course of two weeks, police made only about a dozen arrests, and undercover officers reported surprise at how difficult it was to buy illegal drugs.

This is not to downplay the need to deal with the illegal drug trade in downtown Victoria: One need only look at the numbers from needle exchanges and social agencies to be assured the problem is very real. And those addicted to illegal drugs should have every opportunity to seek help and get the treatment they need.

But alcohol is just a different kind of drug — the only difference is that it’s legal. That doesn’t make the fallout from its abuse any less harmful to individuals, families and communities.

The DRA is happy to have sponsored this talk which has spurred some thoughtful dialogue in the community. We look forward to talking to our guests in the future and look forward to hearing about more progress.U

Entry filed under: City Hall, Harris Green, media, needle exhange, safe injection sites, social issues, Victoria's economy.

TC: Urban Safety on Town Hall Agenda Battle of the United Nations over Victoria harm reduction!

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. goyodelarosa  |  April 1, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    The Police Chief went into an ‘in camera’ meeting with the Victoria City Council recently, no doubt to importune them to hire more police.

    When homelessness and unemployment are rising, real estate values dropping, Victoria’s taxpayers cannot afford more inflationary residential property taxes: now is not the time to raise taxes or hire more police.

    The police don’t seem to want to (or are unable to) enforce the Canadian Criminal Code laws pertaining to possession and trafficking of outlawed hard drugs … their downplaying of the street peddling and public injection problem in this report is truly enlightening… and frankly alarming.

    When police don’t even believe in the efficacy of their enforcement or arrest procedures (or lack thereof), is it any wonder that we have the hard dope market anarchy we do on our Victoria streets … in broad daylight?

    Now that police are giving up, we need more neighbourhood consultation on what type of treatment facilities we are going to put in the neighbourhoods. The Rockland experiment seems to involve two not-so-secret locations… but the neighbours are restless because of non-consultation from VIHA and the City.

    I live in Rockland, not far from one of the properties rumoured to be under renovation for some sort of treatment centre. I am not opposed to having one in the neighbourhood, but deplore the lack of consultation with neighbours. This facility will not work, and will certainly be opposed by neighbours if it dispenses needles.

    Victoria Police need to get out of their cars and offices and meet the people in the neighbourhoods. Get rid of the TASERS! Fire Sargeant Chong. Thugs need not apply to work at the Vic PD.

    Peace, Order and Good Government? One can only hope…

    Gregory Hartnell (‘Goyo de la Rosa’)

  • 2. robertrandall  |  April 1, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    The downplaying of the drug trade puzzled me too.

    Is it because despite the Chief’s confidence, undercover cops are spotted a mile away? I note that the drug user of today has a markedly unhealthy look, one that is hard to fake.

    Or is it that street dealing is truly on the decline? If that is the case, I suggest perhaps it has leveraged technology to take it underground.

    A cheap cell phone becomes a handy dial-a-dope operation where the junk is brought straight to your door, away from the eyes of police.

  • 3. robertrandall  |  April 1, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    The Chief did mention how court backlogs make most routine drug arrests an exercise in futility.

  • 4. Davin Greenwell  |  April 1, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    The police chief was clearly no stranger to public relations. That was immediately clear to me. He was very well spoken and seemed to understand where his pay cheque was coming from, and what stakeholder relations ought to be. His point about always calling was a pretty good one. I have to empathize with a few of the folks who were wondering what the threshold is for calling though – it does feel like we’re harassing the police sometimes with the number of times I could call them each day. I don’t call them even 1/10th of the amount I could. The coalition/task force sounds like it’s doing some noble and revealing work. I found them to be the most encouraging of everyone. The DVBA representative got way too tangental towards the end, spending at least 5 minutes talking about parking. Parking during a discussion of homelessness? That is wickedly off base and frankly it was a waste of time. Honestly that’s how I felt about it.

    Overall I was glad that I was able to attend and, though there was not a lot of new information for me, I found the dialogue to be healthy and the right direction.

  • 5. Yule Heibel  |  April 2, 2009 at 10:30 am

    I just blogged my 2-cents (essentially a pointer to you and to Davin’s entry, where I left a long-ish comment). Keep plugging away, and yep, there’s no one single silver bullet for it.

  • 6. Geoff  |  April 2, 2009 at 10:51 am

    @Gregory Obviously you have tunnel vision. I’m sure that’s what the guy in Vancouver would have rather had then being shot to death.


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