Carnegie Community Action Project (CCAP) strongly opposes the Council recommendation to open and fund a Community Policing Centre in Strathcona. Buried in the City’s Opioid Crisis Update report going to council on Tuesday is a proposal for $200,000 of City dollars towards establishing a new Community Policing Centre in the Strathcona neighbourhood and increased funding for the existing Community Policing Centres.
There were 215 overdose deaths in Vancouver this year, with the majority of the them in the Downtown Eastside. In the midst of this tragedy, it is shameful that the City is planning to use funds set aside to mitigate the fentanyl crisis towards a project aimed to placate property owner fears about the impact of the presence of low-income drug users on their property values. CCAP appeals to community members to speak against the motion at City Hall on Wednesday and to write letters of opposition ahead of the meeting.
- No bonus police funding in the name of fighting overdoses
Downtown Eastside is already the most policed neighbourhood in City, and maybe even in Canada. Since the election of Vision Vancouver in 2008, the annual police budget has increased by 70% while funding for housing and other social programs have remained stagnant. In the report the community policing centre is being framed as a positive measure that will ensure the livability of the area. But liveable for whom? More police doesn’t help drug users nor does it help to mitigate the fentanyl crisis.
City police budgets have increased while Provincial social services budgets have declined. The criminalization of low-income illicit drug users is the cause of the overdose crisis because it increases the power of an unregulated, criminalized drug market, the destabilization of the community that could otherwise protect itself, and the desperation of individual users who could otherwise check their drugs. Spending more money on cops will not reverse this trend.
Police are not good healthcare or social workers. Drug users are targeted and harassed by the police, and drug users avoid interactions with the police because of the very real fear of arrest and charges. Increased policing and community collaboration with the police will make Strathcona less safe for persons who use drugs, push them into less visible and less public areas, and ultimately make them more vulnerable to violence and overdose death.
- Stop City support for an anti-drug user moral panic
The City’s commitment to open a community policing centre in Strathcona is a concession to Strathcona property and business owners. In October the Strathcona Business Improvement Association (SBIA) and Strathcona Residents Association (SRA) raised concerns that the City and Province didn’t ask their permission before announcing plans for two new supervised injection service facilities near Strathcona. The SBIA cited fears about the “safety” of “Strathcona residents, customers, and business owners” resulting from these health services. According to their open letter, the safety panic were primarily “due to an increase in homelessness and open substance use.”
The City proposal to support Strathcona residents and business demands for a community policing centre legitimizes the business and property owner moral panic about the public visibility of low-income drug users. It endorses the idea that homeless people and drug-users are dangerous and, disturbingly, it reinforces the stigmatizing myth that middle class people’s safety is actually compromised by low-income people having health facilities blocks away. We oppose the City’s proposal for a Community Policing Centre because it entrenches anti-drug user stereotypes and distracts from the fact that in the midst of a worsening overdoses crisis it is drug users safety and wellbeing that is really at stake.
- Support peer-led drug user groups and initiatives, not cops
Drug users and drug user groups have been on the frontline of the fentanyl crisis, and often they are the first people to attend to overdoses. Drug users know best what is going on in the community, what drugs are going around, and what supports and services are needed.
Yet, peer-led groups and initiatives like VANDU are chronically underfunded and the Drug Users Resource Centre just lost its funding. As primarily volunteer organizations, Drug User peer groups like VANDU and DURC are also the lowest cost and most effective means of intervening directly in the overdose crisis. The $200,000 set aside for the Strathcona Community Policing centre should be re-directed towards drug user led community groups and initiatives where it can make a difference in stopping the overdose crisis, rather than to more cop resources, where it will make the problem worse.
How to take action against the Strathcona Community Policing Centre:
- Speak out against the motion at City Hall on Wednesday, January 25th.
The report is scheduled for the council meeting on Tuesday January 24th, but speakers will most likely be heard during the council meeting 9.30am the next day. To sign up to speak call Laura Kazakoff, Meeting Coordinator, at 604.871.6353, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Each speaker has 5 min to speak.
- Write a letter of opposition
In addition to speaking at city hall, or if you are not able to speak in person on Wednesday January 25th, you can write a letter in opposition to the recommended measure of opening a Community Policing Centre in the Strathcona neighbourhood. We encourage you to base your letter on our points but to use your own words if you can. We know this is very short notice so please feel free to copy our text if you’d like. The three points we would like to emphasize are: 1) No bonus police funding in the name of fighting overdoses; 2) Stop City support for an anti-drug user moral panic, and; 3) Support peer-led drug-user groups, not cops.Letters can be sent to email@example.com as well as firstname.lastname@example.org. Please email a copy of your letter to email@example.com.