Vancouver Police: There is no "no-go zone" for officers around Insite

Canada's first supervised injection site didn't increase crime in Vancouver's troubled Downtown Eastside.

But Insite didn't decrease it, either.

That's what numbers and experience tell Insp. Scott Thompson, the Vancouver Police Department's drug policy co-ordinator and downtown district commander.

"Insite was located in what was and still is the epicentre for the drug world in our entire region," Thompson said. "The crime and the drug use and the street disorder already existed there in spades."

Insite is just one variable in a "very complex mix."

"What it does make a change in is public health outcomes and that's been shown through the research," he said.

Also in the mix was a more than doubled police presence beginning months before Insite opened in 2003. It was a move from crackdowns to helping residents feel safe in a neighbourhood with rampant drug use, poverty and mental illness.

It strikes Thompson as unlike Ottawa's Byward Market, where he hasn't seen a cop on every corner to maintain order.

He worked with Insite staff on dealing with emergencies -- like a code word for police to be buzzed in fast -- and had regular meetings to boost communication.

There is no "bubble zone."

The force "recommended" that officers direct users found injecting within a four-block radius to Insite to avoid future brushes with the law but they had "full discretion" to lay charges and seize drugs.

"To our great surprise, a number of our officers down there actually took people to the site and said, go in here," Thompson said.

The bottom line, he says, is that the VPD was the expert on public safety, not public health, and had to be a key stakeholder.

"If a decision is made (to have a supervised injection site), I'm sure the Ottawa Police would say we need to roll up our sleeves and be part of the project group and how do we make this work?" he said.

By Megan Gillis
Source: Ottawa Sun