I'm more than a little heartened to see Vancouver Police Inspector Bob Rolls talking tough about cleaning up the world's largest open air drug bazaar, the Downtown Eastside. Or, as it was known when I walked a beat on its mean streets, " The Skids."
But talk is cheap. And the real test of this is whether the courts, the Crown and the Department itself, will withstand the inevitable pressure they will face as they proceed with their stated "zero tolerance" policy.
When I first set foot on the "beat" in the Skids it was a different job. In those days, in the early '80s, the beat was a coveted job. It was only given to those officers who had proven themselves in patrol cars to have the right stuff.
In those days, the beat squad in the Skids was totally self-driven in terms of the work that was done. We weren't responsible for radio calls and our work as part of the 12 man crew was totally self-generated. We went out and found the bad guys and put them in jail. In some ways it was a much more simple life. Within hours of a new guy arriving on the beat he was challenged. Not in the way the word is used today, but in the manner of the Wild, Wild West. To see how tough you were. One of the local street thugs would throw down the gauntlet and you either picked it up and hit him with it or you didn't last for much longer on the beat. That was just the way it was.
But, in those days we ruled the streets. There was no such thing as junkies using in plain view or dealers advertising their lethal wares blatantly on every street corner. No, in those days the junkies and dealers hid from the police.
Then something went awry. Maybe it was when we started referring to the dealers, users, muggers, rapists, thieves and assorted buttheads as “clients.” Maybe it was when we started swallowing the so-called “Four Pillars” nonsense that allowed the assholes to take control of the streets.
But the bottom line is that we let the streets get away from us. And by us, I mean the police. And that is the essential question in the message being sent out by the VPD. Will the department back those officers who pick up the gauntlet and smack some Honduran crack dealer in the chops with it?
Because, like it or not, that is what is required. And PIVOT and VANDU need to be told that their bovine scatology is irrelevant. A junkie makes a choice and the result is not a “social issue” but a crime issue. And there’s the rub.
No one, as far as I can see, is prepared to tell these groups to get stuffed. And that will be an issue when VPD tries to clean the streets of the ubiquitous junkies and death dealers that have been given a free pass in the Skids over the past 10-15 years.