Simple drug possession generally isn’t enough to attract much police attention anymore, Chief Del Manak told city councillors Tuesday
And that’s a concern to at least one city councillor, who says the city may be headed down the wrong path.
Victoria could see 100 overdose deaths this year, Manak told councillors but police focus when it comes to drugs is not on possession but on mid-level drug dealers and attempting to stop the supply of tainted drugs.
Coun. Geoff Young, who called the number of overdose deaths “appalling” and “a public health emergency,” wondered whether the seemingly permissive approach to drug use by police isn’t contributing to the problem.
He said that to anyone walking around downtown in the evening it would seem police are no longer interested in people using drugs.
“Have we pretty much given up any kind of arrests and prosecutions for simple possession of unknown drugs, or basically what we’re worried about is fentanyl?” Young asked Manak.
“Putting it bluntly, are we following the wrong road? Because things do not seem to be working out. People keep saying we need evidence-based decision-making and all the evidence suggests to me that something is not working very well,” Young said.
Manak said the police response to illegal drugs is complex. Police use “appropriate discretion” and community safety as their guides, he said.
He conceded that police don’t often make arrests for possession.
“I think it depends on who the person is. If they are an active drug dealer that’s a thorn in our sides, that’s preying upon our most vulnerable people and they had a quantity of drugs, illicit drugs, we may consider red-zoning them,” he said.
Conditions can be placed on those released after having been charged with an offence but not yet found guilty. That can include areas where the person can not go, called red zones.
Manak said he’s pleased his officers “don’t just act as robots” making arrests every time they see something that may be illegal, “and spend two hours doing paper work on matters that are not going to have the impact.”
Young wondered if priorities aren’t being misplaced.
He noted an early morning vehicle accident that caused serious injuries to one person drew maybe four police cars and 10 officers.
“That’s one serious injury. You just told us there are 100 people dying or expected to die every year,” Young said.
“What I would suggest is our resources are not being used in an appropriate way.
“What you are hearing [from the community] is forget about simple possession. But that message is resulting in a whole lot of tragic outcomes that a change in philosophy might address.”
Manak agreed the number of overdose deaths locally and provincially — where 1,500 fatalities are projected by year’s end — are “staggering.”
“The police department here does know that and we do focus on the projected 99 illicit drug overdose deaths that we’re going to have,” he said.
“But we don’t simply focus on those that have simple possession. We’re focusing on our mid-level drug traffickers. We’re focusing on working with Canada Border Services, our other partner agencies and knowing who is bringing and tainting the drug supply in our region.”