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  1. Motorhead
    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."

    Pamela Roth
    The Edmonton Sun
    Feb. 18, 2011


  1. Madhat
    Crack addiction is a slippery slope, but that comment is just funny. Who's ever heard of addiction taking an off season?

    I was around Dallas for a while in the early 90's when crack was hitting that city hard. Some of the areas around the southern end looked like some scene out of a Detroit crime movie. If crack is just hitting Edmonton hard, they probably haven't seen the worst of it yet. Still, crack seems to breed a natural aversion to it after a while, so it seems like cities go in phases.
  2. Motorhead
    Alberta is Canada's 'boom' province due to it's abundance of oil reserves, and the money and drugs have been flowing for several years now. Cocaine, meth, and high quality BC bud is everywhere. Heroin doesn't seem to be as big, but it is there. Swim has had many first hand reports from friends returning from work out west about the vast amounts of drugs and drug abuse in Alberta.
  3. God hates me
    Well said swiMotörhead, Fort Mcmurray seems to be the biggest problem in Alberta because of their natural resources boom and how many young people are moving there to work. Swim has heard plenty of horror/love stories about how easy it is to make money and ow prominent drugs are there.
  4. Motorhead
    City murders far from random

    Blue-collar city with plenty of drugs a recipe for violence

    EDMONTON - Depending on your method of statistical analysis, there have been either eight or 11 homicides since New Year's Day. Both numbers are high, so high that we've managed to put aside our faintly ridiculous arguments about snow-clearing and to suspend arguments-to-come about pot holes to wonder why so many people have been murdered in the last two months.

    Each year Maclean's magazine publishes a rather unfortunate list of the most dangerous cities in Canada. Since the beginning of the last economic boom, Edmonton has figured near the top every year -especially in homicides.

    "Edmonton has an economy that, unfortunately, contributes to violence," said one of the most respected homicide detectives on the city police force, Dan Jones, this week. "We're a blue-collar city with blue-collar problems, a port city in the middle of the prairies, with a lot of drugs."

    That said, only one of the homicides has been "random," and it was the result of a fist fight outside a nightclub. The others have been committed by an offender known to the victim or were lifestyle-based -that is, drug or gang related.

    "We don't have a Boston strangler or a Zodiac Killer," said Jones. "Almost no random murders. If you're outside a drug or gang lifestyle, and you aren't in an abusive relationship, you're just fine in Edmonton."

    Still, murder is murder. Even when we use terms of ironic endearment like Stabmonton or Deadmonton, we're expressing a spiritual malaise. We choose to feel it, if we feel it at all, as a reputation management issue. We remind each other it usually happens in one of those neighbourhoods or one of those communities.

    The most fascinating and controversial story in the 2005 bestseller Freakonomics was about the startling drop in the New York City crime rate in the 1990s. Authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner found the drop had little to do with any "tough on crime" initiatives and everything to do with the legalization of abortion in 1973 -that is, fewer "unwanted young men" 20 years later.

    We long for these sorts of insights, as they tend to simplify a hopelessly complex problem. At the end of my conversation with Jones this week, we hit upon a local candidate.

    "I'd much rather deal with a kid high on marijuana than a kid high on cocaine," he said, noting carefully that both were, of course, illegal.

    By the time the last boom came around, the large oilsands operations and refineries had begun instituting random testing for marijuana. The drug stays in your system for threeto-six weeks, so the young men inclined to smoke marijuana off the job site were obliged to stop.

    Cocaine, however, the key ingredient in crack and one of the most devastating and profitable street drugs, is untraceable in the blood stream after approximately 36 hours.

    "Guys who might have smoked marijuana off-shift started smoking rock," said Jones.

    Levitt and Dubner had concluded, in the same study on crime and abortion, that the single most important objective factor in the doubling of homicide rates in black American neighbourhoods between 1984 and 1994 was the introduction and spread of crack cocaine.

    Legalized abortion was about women's rights. Random marijuana testing was designed to minimize accidents and maximize productivity. These unintended causes and effects obscure the truth: drug use, gang membership, abusive relationships and homicide are all side-effects of despair.

    "As a spiritual response I always ask, 'How do we find the face of God in the people who are affected by murder, and in the people who commit it?' " said Doris Kieser, a theology professor at St. Joseph's College and a psychologist who has worked with inner-city youth.

    "Every kid in every school knows where to find the gang," she said. "When we're dealing with children, we have to remember every child has dignity. How do we nurture that?"

    One of her suggestions was to ensure all kids have access to sports and other extracurricular activities, even if their parents can't -for whatever reason -manage it.

    David Goa, director of the Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life at the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta, has worked with some of the communities whose children have been caught up in many of the recent homicides.

    "This is our problem, not theirs," he said, in an Old Strathcona café not far from the site of one of last summer's homicides. "It has to do with how we can create a hospitable society that can actually welcome people who come out of difficult circumstances -whatever those circumstances may be."

    Goa talked about creating public space for particular cultures so that young men isolated from whatever they left behind have a meaningful place to go.

    The cultural draw of what Detective Jones calls lifestyle choices, drugs and gangsterism is enormously appealing to young people who feel a lack of connection with Edmonton.

    It's not only people in those neighbourhoods and those communities -new immigrants, urban aboriginals -even if they feel the stresses of it most acutely. This sense of meaninglessness, of living in a busy, rich Canadian nowhere, is what wealthy middle-class students on the bus are expressing when they trade nicknames for the city: Edmurder. Murderton. Eville.

    "The only antidote for meaninglessness is the development of the capacity to care, to see each other's faces," said Goa, though he doesn't mean the Heritage Festival and he isn't referring to any form of civic glee club.

    So what does he mean?

    We don't have a coherent culture in Canada, unlike countries with the lowest murder rates in the developed world -Iceland and Japan. But eating the same food and pronouncing words identically shouldn't be a prerequisite for caring, for engaging with what Goa calls the "civic sphere" of a liberal democratic society more creatively.

    "When I visit these young people in prison I always say the same thing," said Goa. "We need you! We want you and need you to engage with this city, this culture. You have something worthwhile we need."

    Goa didn't say so, but it was clear he was searching for a way to goad, encourage and include these young men before they landed in prison.

    Todd Babiak
    Edmonton Journal
    Feb. 26, 2011
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