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Spike in crime around Calgary supervised consumption site leads to questions about resources

A report from Calgary police on crime and disorderly conduct in the vicinity of the Sheldon Chumir Health Centre’s supervised consumption site shows a dramatic spike in crime and drug-related calls since it opened.

The report that was released on Tuesday was the result of police looking at a 250-metre radius around the health centre, with a focus on drug activity and criminal behaviour.

Police said officers have seen a 276 per cent increase in drug-related calls in the buffer zone compared to the three-year average.

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There was also a reported 47 per cent increase in violence and a 45 per cent increase in break and enters compared to the three-year averages for both.

Chief Const. Steve Barlow said Tuesday afternoon that while the supervised consumption site was established to target the opioid crisis in Calgary, “drug trends have shifted” and now, the most commonly used drug at the Chumir centre is meth.

“When you have a population like this… in a concentrated area and you’re dealing with the homelessness, the addiction piece of this… unfortunately the criminal element comes with that,” Barlow said, adding the behaviour of those consuming meth can be unpredictable.

“We understand there has been an impact on our immediate community and that is a priority.”

Barlow went on to say that police are only a “small part of the solution,” and called on others to ramp up supports for things like mental health and addiction treatment. He said he’d rather have people in crisis be seen by health professionals than police officers.

The concerning numbers have prompted decision-makers on both the municipal and provincial levels to take steps to address the growing concerns of those living and working in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood, where the supervised consumption site is situated.

Councillor Evan Woolley called the situation “unacceptable.”

“People are starting to feel unsafe,” he said Tuesday.

“I’m bringing forward an urgent notice of motion with Councillor [Diane] Colley-Urquhart on Monday morning that has specific actions for council to support that will make neighbours feel safe and will restore public confidence in and around the neighbourhood.”

Woolley said there needs to be an increased presence around the centre to ensure people making use of the supervised consumption site, as well as other residents frequenting the area, feel safe.

“Job No. 1 is presence,” he said. “Whether you’re talking about Alberta Health Services support workers, whether you’re talking about police, community programming, crime prevention through environmental design — we need to put more resources in presence.”

Barlow said the Calgary Police Service is looking at options for increasing its presence in the area, including possibly moving one of its mobile units to the neighbourhood. However, he wants to make sure officers aren’t seen as a deterrent to those needing the centre.

“One of the fears I have with that is that I don’t want to scare away the people who need this support and who are part of that population,” he said. “I want to deal with the people who are victimizing them, but I want the people who need those resources to still feel safe to come down there.”

Watch below: (From December 2018) Calgary’s interim police chief is appealing to Ottawa for help in dealing with an alarming rise in meth use. Blake Lough reports.

Barlow said as CPS works with the province and city to find solutions to the ongoing situation and strain on resources, the public will likely see longer response times to lower-end calls.

Health Minister Sarah Hoffman announced a $200,000 investment on Tuesday to establish a DOAP (downtown outreach addictions partnership) team that would target the downtown core, paying specific attention to the Chumir centre and the surrounding neighbourhood.

“I think it’s really important that people feel safe in their community,” Hoffman said. “That means ensuring that we’re doing important health work inside the building, but also increasing services in and around the building.”

Hoffman credited the supervised consumption site with saving the lives of about 800 people since it opened in October 2017.

The CPS said between the site’s opening — on Oct. 30, 2017 — and Dec. 31, 2018, the consumption site saw 54,473 clients.

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