Pubdate: Mon, 05 Feb 2018
Source: Vancouver Sun (CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Nick Eagland
Page: A4


Some fear increased police presence will drive drug users to avoid
health services

While Vancouver police proclaim victory in a recent crackdown on crime
in the Downtown Eastside, some locals fear the boost in beat cops is
pushing people who use drugs into harm's way.

Last week, Vancouver police increased foot patrols to address "street
disorder" and prevent violence. Police said the sweeps came in
response to a surge in complaints from residents, business owners and
visitors. As well, people with mobility issues and the elderly have
complained about blocked sidewalks and doorways.

But drug users and groups representing the marginalized believe the
bolstered police presence has deterred people from using
overdose-prevention services during the fentanyl-related overdose crisis.

"I feel that (the police will) find a way to incriminate you, if they
can, because they want to meet their quota," said Larissa, who visited
the Overdose Prevention Society at 58 East Hastings St. on Saturday.

Larissa, who asked that her last name not be printed, said people who
use drugs can feel dehumanized by police, and uniformed officers
standing outside an injection site will make them feel unwelcome. She
worries her friends may instead use alone, use dirty needles or get
robbed while hiding in alleyways.

"I think that it will make a lot of people stop coming," she said.
"They could just be out in the alley, dropping."

Joy, an Overdose Prevention Society volunteer in recovery, who also
asked that her last name not be printed, said there's been a marked
decrease in visits since the police crackdown.

When police round the corner to the alleyway behind the OPS, drug
users shout "Six up!" and scatter into the shadows, she said.

Deputy Chief Howard Chow said the increased police activity in the
Downtown Eastside will continue. But Chow said beat officers remain
focused on "predators that exploit drug addicts." He said police
policy is to crack down on organized crime, not pick up people with
addictions on minor possession charges.

"Our members are regularly guiding, directing - even assisting and
bringing - those that are drug addicts to those overdose (prevention)

With an average of one person dying of an overdose in Vancouver each
day of 2017, officers will continue to administer naloxone and pull
drug use "out of the laneways," Chow said. "We don't want people to be
using in laneways where all of a sudden people may have a crisis or
overdose, and nobody knows it."

Chow said the sweeps have been effective. Last week was only the
second week in the past six years during which there wasn't a single
street-level assault or robbery. Police have confiscated knives, a
hatchet and an imitation handgun during searches. They've seized drugs
cut with fentanyl as well as stolen property.

Chow said feedback to police from drugs users and other community
members has been overwhelmingly positive.

Dean Wilson, peer engagement lead with the B.C. Centre on Substance
Use, said police crackdowns have always been disruptive. And he
believes the current campaign is doing little more than driving people
away from life-saving health services.

Saturday, Postmedia observed four officers stopping a man carrying a
boxed, flat-screen television outside Pigeon Park Savings, next to the
street market.

Anna Cooper, staff lawyer at Pivot Legal Society, sees a gap in logic
between officers standing outside a "critical life-saving location"
and the force's claim that it is playing a critical role in fighting

"If that's their goal, then they might be achieving it in some ways,
but they're actively undermining it at the same time," Cooper said.
"If you have a naloxone kit in one hand and a substance user's
personal belongings in the other hand, you're in a really conflicted
role, in terms of helping people."

Cooper said Pivot has received a surge in calls and concerns about the
recent sweeps. While police say they're protecting the vulnerable, the
vulnerable tell Pivot they feel threatened and harassed, she said.

"Most of the stories that we're hearing isn't that they 're
intervening in fights and keeping the peace that way," Cooper said.
"It's that they're basically shaking down people who are visibly poor."
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