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City Holler

Trish Kelly explores the issues and challenges that face our growing city.

Community policing centre in Strathcona a wrongheaded approach to fentanyl crisis

City's decision to fund community policing centre in Strathcona will further stigmatize addicts and could lead to more overdose deaths, argues Trish Kelly.

Nurse Sally Krupp and VANDU's Samona Marsh demonstrate how to administer naloxone at a all-day opiate overdose response training training session in Vancouver in November.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro File

Nurse Sally Krupp and VANDU's Samona Marsh demonstrate how to administer naloxone at a all-day opiate overdose response training training session in Vancouver in November.

Last week, Vancouver city council made some decisions about how our city will use $3.5 million dollars raised through a 0.5 per cent property tax increase to address the fentanyl crisis.

While most of the money will go to supporting front line efforts, including funding a three-person overdose response team stationed at Firehall No. 2, more than $200,00 is earmarked to open and maintain a Strathcona Community Policing Centre.

It’s an idea that is opposed by front-line community groups and could make the overdose problem worse.

I’m pretty surprised that the city proposed the idea of increases to community policing as a way to deal with the opioid crisis, and I’m simply amazed that in the face of so much community-based opposition, they decided to pass it.

So many people wanted to speak on the issue at the council meeting on Jan. 24th, that a second day of speakers had to be scheduled. Most came to speak against the community policing centre, though the chief of police and head of the neighbourhood’s business improvement association spoke in support. Many community members who did not understand that you must register in advance to speak to city council, requested to speak, but were not allowed.

The city report suggests that community policing centres act as hubs for local residents who voluntarily patrol their neighbourhood, and the centre itself could be used for overdose prevention training and other supportive acts like needle clean-ups. Community groups say it can’t help, because people addicted to illicit drugs avoid police. They say that patrols of concerned citizens linking themselves to police will not be seen as a safe go-to for anyone in the midst of an overdose.

Vancouver Coastal Heath’s chief medical officer spoke to council and noted that any approach to harm reduction needs to look at decriminalizing illicit drugs and reducing the stigma associated with being an addict. People who are stigmatized feel they must conceal their problematic behavior and they are more likely to die from an overdose.

Does anyone have an example of when policing anything lead to reduced stigma for that behaviour?

Perhaps those behind the proposal thought that a mere $200,000 of $3.5 million in spending would go unnoticed. Perhaps they thought they could throw Strathcona home and business owners a bone after last year’s decision to land two new injections sites in the neighbourhood caused outrage amongst the better offs of Strathcona.

The community policing spending is a small part of the city’s overall budget to address the fentanyl crisis, but it shows a lack of will to address the root causes, and it shows the city is still willing to push the marginalized to the margins to placate the privileged. 

Trish Kelly lives and writes in East Vancouver. Follow her on Twitter @trishkellyc

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