TORONTO - City Police Chief Randy Henry leaned back in his chair when asked if the recent number of drug busts in the city means the problem is worse in the Gem City than other surrounding municipalities.
"No," he said. "We're getting this reputation, but we have the same drug problems as everyone else. We're just dealing with ours."
A large number of high-profile drug busts in the city in the past two years, including the recent arrest of suspects during the largest heroin bust ever in Toronto - 100 grams of heroin with a street value of $40,000 - have some wondering whether the Gem City has become a haven for drug users and dealers. Henry said it may seem that way, but only because of the city's commitment to get rid of the dealers.
The past three years have seen an influx of newer, younger officers willing to tackle the problem and other related offenses, both large and small. The number of citations and arrests have tripled from three years ago, according to City Police records.
"Normally we don't deal with big major drug dealers," continued Henry, adding most arrested are small-time users and "petty," low-level dealers. "We're mostly dealing with the low-end users and dealers."
Henry said the idea is to send a message to dealers and users if they use in Toronto, they lose, and to keep constant pressure on dealers and users.
"A lot of these people are from out of town, and we're arresting them," he said. "They didn't grow up here. A lot of times we set up these drug buys, and (users) are going out of town to buy drugs.
Henry said the other offenses tied to drug abuse also are part of the problem, such as addicts shoplifting, breaking and entering into residences and unlocked vehicles and stealing for drug money.
"These people get high every day, and they have one thought when they get up in the morning - to target someone into becoming a victim," said Henry, adding addicts seek "soft" targets to rob and steal from. "A lot of them aren't breaking into cars like they used to because (of car alarms), and they are looking for vehicles that aren't locked."
Henry said the best way not to become a victim is to keep houses, vehicles and other "soft" targets locked.
"Toronto isn't what it used to be," said the chief. "It's changed."
Henry said there are a couple of causes for the increased drug use, including a poor economic climate and lack of jobs. He added many users begin recreationally and end up as full-blown addicts.
"They have too much time on their hands," he said. "They get addicted and they can't get off of it.
"A lot of times it's boyfriends or significant others that set up a drug business (at a woman's residence), get arrested and leave these girls homeless and high and dry."
Henry said some drug abusers who have been busted are incarcerated, where they have no choice but to quit doing drugs.
"Some of them come back and thank us after being arrested because it was the only way they could get off of (drugs)," said the chief.
Henry said another problem is negligent landlords who rent to anyone without doing any kind of background checks to determine what kind of tenant they are renting to.
"A lot of these landlords don't live live in Toronto, and these houses are in deplorable condition," Henry said. "Some of them are virtual slumlords. We have the same problems at the same addresses over and over."
Henry said he is not sure law enforcement will ever be able to completely wipe out drug dealing and abuse in the city because the problem is so pervasive.
"At first it was prescription drugs, until doctors started cracking down on writing prescriptions," he said. "Now the big one is heroin because it's cheap and easy to find. It's never-ending. It's also an expensive battle. We spend thousands of dollars every year just on drug buys. Once they get a foothold, it's difficult to reel it in. There are houses we're looking at right now (for suspected drug activity)."
The chief said the best tool law enforcement has been citizens who tip authorities off to suspected drug activity.
"Citizen involvement is our biggest ally because we don't have a full-time drug task force here," he said. "The (Jefferson County) sheriff and the Jefferson County Drug Task Force are always there to help us out."
Henry said all tips to police are "completely confidential. We never name tipsters. If (a person) wants to report something anonymously, that's fine."
To reach Toronto Police, call (740) 537- 1591.