Calls to police near Calgary consumption site increased in 1st quarter of 2019: report

Calgary police released a new report Wednesday showing an increase in calls for service near the city's only supervised consumption site.

But police say a better picture of the impacts of increased patrols will be available in later reports

Police have increased their presence near the Sheldon Chumir supervised consumption site in downtown Calgary. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Calgary police released a new report Wednesday showing an increase in calls for service near the city's only supervised consumption site.

In the first three months of 2019, there were 694 calls to police in the area surrounding the Sheldon Chumir, 50 per cent more than the three-year average for that period.

But police said it's important to note that because call volumes in that area are low, any change can have a significant impact on the percentage. 

During the same period, the rest of the city saw a two per cent drop.

"Disorder events" increased 35 per cent over the three-year average, most of which were calls for drug use, mental health issues, suspicious people and unwanted guests. 

'Future reporting' will provide more insight

Police said those numbers don't fully account for the increased patrols police have rolled out in recent months.

Calls peaked in January, but dropped in February with a slight increase in March.

"The substantive increase in proactive police presence in the study area did not occur prior to the start of this reporting period. It is anticipated future reporting will provide additional insight into the full impact on crime and disorder," the report reads.

The report also stated that there will be challenges for police to maintain the increased patrols with their current resources.

There were 231 calls to police in the first quarter of 2019 above the three-year average for that period. (Calgary Police Service)

David Low, the executive director of the Victoria Park Business Improvement Area, said he hopes the thorough reporting on crime in the area helps the agencies involved make changes for the better. 

"Having really good data is super important to make intelligent decisions around how these things operate," he said.

"I think this summer, the next quarter, will be sort of a real proof in the pudding … if everything that we're being told about these services bears itself out that they're supposed to reduce crime and social disorder, then that would be the real win is actually seeing that happen."

Low said businesses in the area are starting to see some improvements, but more work still needs to be done.

"I think the public realm has suffered and borne the brunt of this experiment," he said. "I think we need to bring the conversation back to go, OK, if we are going to do these things, what is it that we need to do to ensure that the impacts are not affecting people."

David Low says businesses are starting to see a reduction in crime and disorder near Calgary's supervised consumption site. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

The site has seen increased use, with an average of 200 visits per day in March 2019, up from 11 per day when it opened in 2017. 

In March, drugs were consumed onsite 4,409 times and staff responded to 53 overdoses.

Health Canada granted the consumption site's renewal to operate in January, but stipulated that Alberta Health Services must provide the agency with an outline of the measures it will take to address the increased crime and disorder, and how it will address inappropriately discarded equipment and supplies.

AHS has since developed an action plan that includes providing sharps containers and providing needle debris collection teams to address those concerns, and police have ramped up patrols.

Murray Shuturma, who's the president of a nearby condo board, says he'd still like to see the site relocated.

"Well it's sort of a band-aid approach to the problem. They're not removing the problem, they're just trying to deal with it. I think the site needs to be relocated from where it is. It's not working."

Shuturma said he and community members plan to reach out to Premier Jason Kenney to ask what can be done.