British Columbia

Vancouver police say violent crime on the rise on the Downtown Eastside

VPD Const. Steve Addison says there's been an increase in assaults on community members and cops who patrol Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

'We're taking more and more weapons off the street every day': Const. Steve Addison

A man is detained by the VPD in the DTES in Vancouver, British Columbia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The Downtown Eastside in Vancouver is becoming increasingly dangerous, according to the city's police force.

The neighbourhood has been notorious for decades for its rampant homelessness and drug use, but according to the Vancouver Police Department (VPD), there has been a rise in violent crime in the northeast quadrant of the city "in recent weeks and months."

VPD spokesperson Const. Steve Addison told Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition on Friday that both residents and officers in the area are bearing the brunt of the violence.

"We've seen assaults against community members increasing. We've seen incidents involving our officers being assaulted or officers being swarmed at times when they're trying to make arrests ... we're seeing a number of challenges," said Addison.

Police monitor a protest at the intersection of Main and Hastings streets on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside on Aug. 15, 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Addison also told Quinn officers are confiscating more weapons than usual.

"We've seen more gun seizures, both real and fake, in that neighborhood and we're taking more and more weapons off the street every day," he said.

The increase in crime coincides with the consensus shared by residents, frontline workers, advocates and policymakers, including Vancouver's mayor, that the situation on the Downtown Eastside (DTES) is the worst it has ever been.

The DTES is identified by police as District 2 and four groups of officers known as The Beat Enforcement Team patrol the neighbourhood. According to Addison, the mandate of these officers is "to be a visible police presence, to conduct foot patrols, to disrupt criminal activity, to help maintain order, and to lend a helping hand to people in the community."

It is not hard, Addison said, to see laws being broken on any given day in the DTES — from open drug use and vandalism, to the sale of stolen goods. Addison said the "unique challenges" in the neighbourhood have an impact on how police approach their job there. 

"If they see a crime, they obviously have a certain amount of discretion," said Addison. "There are a lot of people in this community who have faced a lot of adversity in their lives. We're down there doing our job to try and make life better for people."

A police officer takes a phone call next to his car outside of the Carnegie Centre at Main and Hastings streets on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in August 2019. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Erica Grant is one of those people. She lives at the Savoy Hotel on East Hastings Street and told CBC it doesn't feel like the police keep her safe.

"It feels like we're in a war zone, and the enemies are the drugs, the alcohol and the police," said Grant.

She said she once called VPD because a man "obviously high on drugs" was swinging a knife at her while she was sitting outside a church on East Pender Street. 

"I sat there for 35 minutes, and the police never showed up," she said. "I could have been lying there dead in a pool of blood and they wouldn't have showed up."

Downtown Eastside resident Erica Grant's apartment at the Savoy Hotel above Hastings Street. Grant told CBC she does not feel like police in the DTES are keeping her safe. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Addison said "when somebody calls the police, we respond" and that cops on the DTES want to encourage people to phone the police if they are the victim of a crime or witness a crime happening.

He said officers are there to help all 18-20,000 neighbourhood residents, from "a business owner in Chinatown to a person who's sleeping in a shelter."

"We're there to serve the entire community and we don't discriminate," he said. 'We need people to call us if they need us."

To hear the complete interview with Addison, see the audio link below:

Constable Steve Addison speaks with Stephen Quinn about neighbourhood concerns. 9:06

Join The Early Edition's Stephen QuinnCBC Vancouver News at 6's Mike Killeen and Anita Bathe at the Woodwards Courtyard on Saturday, Sept. 7 at noon for Despair, Addiction, Poverty: When is Enough Enough? a free public town hall looking at how overdose deaths, homelessness and mental illness are affecting the Downtown Eastside and communities across B.C.

With files from The Early Edition and Jodie Martinson

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