Shootings in Vancouver – how our definition of success leads us to failure

After a rash of shootings in Vancouver last week (which continues) I was completely astounded to read this quote by the RCMP in the Globe and Mai:

Violence between competing Mexican cartels is squeezing the flow of drugs from source countries such as Mexico and Colombia through cities such as Los Angeles, one of the major sources for Vancouver-based groups that buy and sell illegal drugs, says Pat Fogarty, RCMP superintendent with the combined forces special enforcement unit. Gangs in the Lower Mainland are now fighting over the dwindling supply.

“The distribution lines have been disrupted,” Supt. Fogarty said yesterday in an interview. “It’s like in any marketplace – the demand stays high, but there’s not as many distributors out there because the little guys get knocked off.”

“The bigger ones survive, the other ones don’t. And these guys don’t resolve things through a court process. It’s ‘I want my piece of the pie’ – well, there’s none left for you.”

Essentially, the RCMP is admitting that the more successful it becomes – the more capable it gets at limiting the flow of drugs – the more violence we can expect from drug dealers on our streets.

Why? Because when demand remains constant and fewer drugs are available, their value will increase making it more tempting to use violence to hold on to, or increase, your share of the marketplace. In essence, the RCMP is admitting that attacking the supply side of the drug trade is an ineffective approach. (The irony of course, is that the reduction has nothing to do with RCMP strategy or tactics but, as the Center for Strategic International Studies notes, everything to do with the geopolitics of the drug trade).

So, the RCMP has inadvertently admitted that the key to managing the War on Drugs is not to reduce supply, but to reduce demand.

This is precisely what makes projects like the NAOMI trial and the Insite injection site so important – they help to both reduce demand for drugs and, in the case of NAOMI, eliminate the demand from illegal sources altogether. This is what makes the RCMP’s opposition to Insite and NAOMI even more puzzling. If – by their own admission – reducing demand is the only way to effectively reduce the crime associated with the drug trade, why are they trying to shut down our most effective tools?

4 thoughts on “Shootings in Vancouver – how our definition of success leads us to failure

  1. WesternGrit

    Their “rabidly dogmatic” approach has nothing to do with reality. They are simply supporting an ideology which will keep them employed – More cops on the beat = less drugs = success (in their world).

  2. david_a_eaves

    Western grit, thanks for commenting. I think for some police officers there is indeed this incentive structure actively at work (and of course passively for many more). However, I think most police officers are genuinely interested in reducing crime first and having a big budget second – to state otherwise would be a disservice to the vast majority of officers who serve and are doing their best. The bigger problem is the definition of success police forces, their political masters and by extension we the public, have become accustomed to using. Many RCMP officers understand this – but they are trapped in a legal framework and a culture that leaves unable to change strategies (and, unfortunately, actively oppose effective strategies). Solving this underlying challenge is going to take time and a lot of dialogue, but this, I think, may be where citizens who are concerned about this issue should target our energy.

  3. franv

    We know since the work of Foucault;s “Discipline and punish” that control and violence are not deterrents to crime. One has only to look at the crime rate in the US in spite (or perhaps because) of the existence of the dearth penalty.The work of the police is to exercise control, using violence and other means, and it's not in their mentality to reason in terms of help and education.Mankind has physically gotten out of the caves, but our rationality still to have remained stuck there, hence discipline remains the choice of the powers that be.I wouldn't expect the police to understand that you can better deal with a problem through education and help. Not in their mental framework.

  4. Jeremy Vernon

    I find it interesting that anyone uses rates of criminal activity as an indication of policing efficacy. Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden enjoy some of the lowest crime rates in the world – are their police just that much better than everyone else's?Saying that lowering drug supplies is the wrong measure of success begs the question – what are good ones?Investigation closures, successful prosecutions and (crucially) vindication rates are a good start.If the police are to hold safety above enforcement of the law (as they're bound to), then the choice before them seems obvious.

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