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Police chief wants increased police presence as opioid crisis worsens

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Substance abuse in Barrie will be at the centre of discussion at the next Barrie Police Service Board meeting later this month.

The City's Police chief is looking to address safety concerns by increasing the police presence on public streets, following the most recent community safety survey results.

"We've heard the ask; we're reallocating current resources to better address those situations downtown," said Chief Rich Johnston.

Community safety survey results indicating just over 41 per cent of respondents identified substance abuse as their primary concern in Barrie through 2023.

That's an increase from nearly 27 per cent the year prior and around 22 per cent in 2021.

The Chief acknowledged substance abuse, in particular, is a health issue, but when asked if more police meant more arrests or just more of a visual presence, he argued it was "a bit of both."

"What we do know, though, is that more police presence can actually cause a reduction in crime; it's a deterrence effect', said Johnston.

At the Gilbert Centre, former city councillor and harm reduction worker Keenan Aylwin said Barrie police and its board should rethink their strategy.

"I think it's important that we distinguish between people being uncomfortable and people being unsafe, the evidence is clear that we need to treat drug use as a health issue, not a criminal issue, and that's actually going to save taxpayers in the long run," said Aylwin.

The city's deputy mayor agreed it is a health crisis but disagreed that an increased police presence wouldn't make city streets safer.

"Being marginalized or vulnerable doesn't mean you're going to have an interaction with police; it's when you do something wrong when somebody has an incident happen to them, no matter how small or how big it is, you can't take away their emotion," said Thomson.

Johnston couldn't reveal much about the plan, which will be revealed at the next police board meeting on May 23.

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