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Drug dealers caught red-handed but still don't know it

Drug dealers in the downtown core could have some sleepless nights, waiting to find out if they were among the 27 who unknowingly sold drugs to undercover police.

“We’re kind of banking that they’re not reading the paper,” said police spokesperson Const. Mike Russell, with a laugh. “If nothing else, it will cause stress in all the drug dealers downtown.”

Between May 3 and May 5, the Victoria police oversaw a sting operation in illegal drug hotspots, targeting the city’s most prolific low-level dealers who are often also responsible for a lot of property crime.

“We’re talking people who have 300 calls for service in a year,” Russell said. “It’s the people that prey on the addicts, so they’re standing outside social service providers, they’re waiting for people coming out of recovery.”

Tony Matthews sees it constantly.

The business owner on the corner of Pandora Avenue and Mason Street has security cameras which capture drug deals regularly. Footage from May 8, the most recent date he’s watched, shows deals going down at 12:04 a.m., 12:57 a.m. and 3:10 a.m.

Construction on the south side of Pandora Avenue has pushed the problem to either side, Matthews said.

“I was moaning to police that everything has been sorted out here except the drug dealers.”

Last week’s sting operation has yet to have any effect.

So far, police are only recommending charges against the individuals. Crown counsel have not approved criminal charges. If approved, the police will track down the individuals to arrest them.

Where the suspects go from there depends if they are a client of the city’s outreach teams, called the ACT and VICOT teams.

Tasked with supporting the city’s most street entrenched, these outreach teams will help their clients navigate through the 14-month-old integrated court. The new model of court, dedicated exclusively to this population, hands out sentences that include support and recovery plans.

Those drug dealers arrested who are not clients of  these outreach teams will go through the regular court stream.

“We are in favour of a jail time sentence,” said Russell, adding these type of arrests typically lead to some jail time.

Large-scale sting operations, such as last week’s, take place once or twice a year.

They result in a big drop in calls to police, Russell said. The improvement can last weeks or months, depending on the length of the jail term, he added.

Matthews, however, questions the long-term efficacy of sting operations.

The former member of a police force in the United Kingdom keeps an active eye on crime in the neighbourhood. As co-chair of Pandora’s 900-block Good Neighbour Agreement, he works regularly with police and sometimes shares his surveillance footage.

“We can’t fight it this way,” he said. “Unless you can do zero-tolerance policing 24 hours a day … that’s the only way you can keep it down, but they can’t do that.”

In the past, he’s been an outspoken supporter of controversial harm-reduction measures, such as a supervised drug consumption site in the neighbourhood. He now proposes an even more radical solution: legalizing all stripes of drugs to better control and tax them.

rholmen@vicnews.com

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