Pubdate: Wed, 6 Aug 2008
Source: New West News Leader (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Black Press
Author: Michael McQuillan


Squeeze a balloon at one end and the air goes to the other end where
there is less pressure.

Squeeze the street drug trade and the nuisance behaviour that comes
with it-and the same happens.

Right now the balloon's bulge in New Westminster is the 800 and 900
blocks of Carnarvon Street in the Downtown. A recent upsurge in police
pressure in that area means the problem will likely show up somewhere
else soon.

Previously, the drug trade hung around Hyack Square at the foot of
Eighth Street, and before that it could be found just steps away near
the entrance of the New Westminster SkyTrain station. Merchants' doors

It's become a broken record with New Westminster Police cleaning up
one neighbourhood and, as a result, pushing it to another. Police
arrest one petty drug dealer and another emerges out of the shadows or
the courts release the dealer the day he was arrested.

On Carnarvon Street, things reached a peak more than a month ago.
Business people in the area only had to look out their doors and watch
drugs-mostly crack cocaine-exchange hands between dealers and users.

And if the merchants or office workers dared venture around their
block they spotted users smoking crack in alcoves, doorways or back

At first the drug trade was viewed as a nuisance-customers were
discouraged by it and shopkeepers began taking extra security measures
to deal with the theft and break-ins. People also became more mindful
of their surroundings.

Lawyer Terry Hewitt, whose law office is on Carnarvon, gives an
example of how businesses have had to adjust.

As he walks past neighbouring storefronts, he tries to open the

It's in the middle of the day and most are locked, even though
business is being carried on inside.

The shopkeepers only open their doors when a customer tries to enter.
Otherwise they stay locked to keep the drug users out.

After business people appeared before New Westminster council and
complained in June, the city hired private security to augment the
police patrols.

Some view the problem as another symptom of the city's large Downtown
homeless population.

'These Are the Hopeless'

But this is not a homeless problem, said Hewitt, whose office front is
often a gathering point for drug deals because large building columns
conceal dealers and buyers from police eyes. "This is a hopeless
problem," he said as he surveys the sidewalk.

By hopeless he means this is not an issue solved by police
enforcement, strategic city initiatives or development.

It goes much further.

These days he describes the problem-open drug dealing, people high on
drugs and loitering crowds-as a human tragedy revealing a society with
no answer to solving this unending misery.

His opinion changed when he came across a young woman high on drugs
completely unable to function sitting in front of his law office.

He called police and was told officers had already been by and called
an ambulance for her. The paramedics arrived but the woman refused
their assistance.

As a result, nothing could be done by either police or

The woman had committed no crimes and wouldn't co-operate, even though
she appeared close to overdosing.

Had she accepted treatment, she would have come down from her drugs
and probably been on the streets the next day, said Hewitt.

"These are the hopeless. There appears to be nothing we can do for

Society's only answer is to move the problem move around, said

And that's not solving anything.

He sees the only solution being a huge investment by senior levels of
government in social and treatment programs.

"I think police have to have more tools to deal with this problem and
one of those tools should be treatment for drug users."

Otherwise they're back on the street as soon as they're released from
jail, said Hewitt.

A Glimpse of What It Could Be Like

After a police crackdown on the street last month the drug dealing
problem began to dissipate. It made an improvement that was obvious to
business people.

It was like the mood on the street changed as the cloud of the drug
trade lifted.

It gave people a sense of what "street life" could be in this area of the
Downtown: a place for residents and visitors to enjoy.

But Hewitt and others know it's not over.

"If the police don't keep it up it will go back the way it was," he

Inevitably the problem will just move somewhere else.

Somewhere where there is less police pressure.

"I'm hearing reports they're now getting problems down at the Quay,"
said Hewitt.

"Perhaps that's where it's going next."

Police Seeking Help

New Westminster Police want Downtown businesses to take an active role
in policing their neighbourhood.

In order to deal with the increase in crime and nuisance behaviour,
NWPS are looking for assistance through a number of different

Businesses hurt by crime are asked to fill out victim impact
statements, which will then be used by Crown counsels when they
prosecute individuals charged for crimes committed in the Downtown.
The statements can ensure certain bail conditions are approved.

Business people should also phone police whenever they're needed so
that information can be compiled for possible investigations. As well,
police are looking for ideas on how to best combat crime in the area.
Local knowledge of the neighbourhood can have an impact.

For more information on working with police contact Sgt. Neil Collins
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake