Somewhere on the streets of Edmonton and the capital region, a crack addict is desperately searching for the next fix.
But that fix doesn't come without a pocket of cash, and when there's no money left in the bank, swiping the nearest bicycle or smashing the window of a parked car for some change suddenly seems like a good idea.
Staff Sgt. Darren Derko of the Edmonton Drug and Gang Enforcement unit (EDGE) said crack cocaine has become the most prominent street level drug in the capital region — along with marijuana — but a crackhead will do almost anything to get their next hit.
The impact a crackhead has on a community can cost thousands of dollars.
"It's an addiction and it's very expensive," said Derko, who recently became a victim of crime when his car window was smashed for $20 worth of change sitting in the ashtray.
"Eventually they go broke and they have to start generating money somewhere. They commit crime, steal property, shoplift, all those kinds of things. It's kind of sad."
According to Derko, a brick of cocaine is worth about $40,000 when it arrives from Vancouver, but when that brick is broken down and sold into smaller pieces, its value is more than $118,000 and can spawn more than a million dollars worth of crime.
A brick of cocaine is usually cooked and made into crack cocaine, which is split into what's referred to as "spit balls." A single brick can create more than 2,900 spit balls, which Derko said are worth about $40 each on the street.
A true addict will have that consumed within hours, then go on the hunt for more cash to supply them with their next fix.
The hunt usually leads to property crimes, where thieves are desperate to swipe anything to make a few dollars.
The problem, said Derko, is that stolen items are worth only about 10 per cent of their actual value on the street, meaning addicts will commit two or three crimes before they have enough cash to buy the drug.
"A lot of people that get hooked on this will obviously be using their own money, but even that runs out and they are not able to support their habit anymore, so now they're committing crimes," said Derko. "It's a vicious cycle."
As far as police drug investigations are concerned, there is no such thing as a slow season.
Derko said it's hard to put a number on how much cocaine passes through Edmonton in a year, but he estimates it's more than 800 kg.
The latest police stats show there's been a gradual increase in overall drug and money seizures in recent years, which indicate the problem is growing.
The amount of cocaine seized by police last year was more than 27 kg. In 2009, that number was 25 kg and 17 kg in 2007.
In 2010, police seized more than $1.3 million of cash directly related to drug investigations. The year before, that number was just over $700,000 and was approximately $560,000 in 2008.
When it comes to holding those accountable for selling drugs in the city, the EDGE unit alone arrested 330 people last year in relation to drug and gang investigations.
Derko said the problem with crack cocaine isn't confined to one particular area of the city or class of society either.
Investigations have taken police to some of the most prestigious areas in the capital region, and nabbed buyers from all walks of life, including doctors, lawyers and bankers.
In an effort to fight the war on crack cocaine, city police are now undertaking more complex drug investigations and continue to go after organized crime groups with hopes of nabbing the top dog of the drug chain.
But even though police are making progress, Derko says the fight will never end.
"There's lots of work to be done still," said Derko. "I don't think it will ever end. We don't have a down season."
The Edmonton Sun
Feb. 18, 2011
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