Higher rate of violent crimes in Calgary’s open-air drug markets

According to a recent report published by CBC news, expected criminal behaviour at crime “hot spots” in Calgary is often associated with violence. So far, Calgary police have identified 15 to 20 such “open-air drug markets” in the city, including one convenience store.

Drug trade at such hot spots takes place out in the open, with buyers, sellers and multiple streams of delivery through which a product arrives at its destination. Typically, in order to contact a private dealer, it is necessary to first go through a verification process to prove that one is not a member of law enforcement. In contrast, at open-air drug markets, visibility is used as a marketing strategy. Moreover, according to Calgary police, the dealers at such “hot” spots are low-level figures that can be easily replaced.

“In one sense, [open-air drug markets are] probably dangerous. But it can’t be extremely dangerous, otherwise nobody would come. The most dangerous place is not going to have much drug activity at all, because who would buy there except extremely desperate people?”

Dr. John Eck, researcher at University of Cincinnati, to CBC News.

Moreover, open-air drug markets are often located in proximity to major roads or near public areas with high foot traffic, strategically placed in these locations to use street activity to create a distraction and to disguise the criminal activity.  Moreover, such “hot spots” are placed in public locations to make it easier for users to find and access them.

The report also states that stabbings and shootings which occur at open-air drug markets are often reported in a “colourless” fashion. Although these incidents are often reported as related to drugs, many of them involve a violation of the “street code” which dictates market users how to behave.

“What we see from the outside is a report of a shooting or a knifing or a beating. What we don’t see is all the times that doesn’t happen. Those things that happen, happen because somebody is acting inappropriately for the circumstance.”

Dr. John Eck, researcher at University of Cincinnati, to CBC News.

Yale professor and ethnographer​​​​​ Dr. Elijah Anderson told CBC News that the code is established in communities where individuals are marginalized and lose their trust in police and the justice system.

The markets’ users include occasional buyers, as well as frequent users such as individuals with drug addictions, as well as others who are homeless or involved in crime.

Calgary police say they are “focused” on addressing violence at open-air drug markets.  

“The long-term success will be when we start tackling the complex social and health issues in and around mental health and homelessness,” said Insp. Rob Davidson. “Then, we will start to drive down supply demand.”

However, according to CBC News, problems associated with such crime hot spots are likely to increase with the rise in automation and associated job loss, with marginalized populations turning to the underground economy as a source of revenue.

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