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    Encounters with Security Guards in Vancouver’s Eastside

    Background

    The number of licensed security guards in British Columbia has doubled in the last decade. Currently, there are 17,000 licensed security guards in the province, which is twice the number of police officers. Security guards are often hired to patrol areas frequented by people who inject drugs (PWID) such as Vancouver’s Eastside. Recent qualitative research found that people who use drugs in this area are often subject to discriminatory surveillance and abuse by security guards. As well, previous findings suggest that security guard presence may prevent access to health care services.

    Findings:

    • One third of the sample reported at least one encounter with a security guard in the course of the 8-year study.
    • Of the 1172 reported encounters with security guards, participants most commonly reported that they were told to move on (70.6%); verbally abused (15.6%); assaulted (7.6%); detained (5.4%); or chased (5.1%) by security guards.
    • People who inject drugs (PWID) who have encounters with security guards were generally marginalized on several markers of vulnerability and drug related harm such as unstable housing, experiencing violence, non-fatal overdose, syringe sharing, public injection and inability to access addiction treatment.
    • Security guards may be overstepping their legal authority when interacting with people who inject drugs, such as controlling access to public space and using excessive force.
    • The authors found an association between security guard contact and high-risk drug use behaviours, which aligns with previous research. For example, intensified police presence has been shown to promote rushed injections, hinder access to sterile injection equipment from harm reduction services, which could contribute to syringe sharing.
    • Interaction with security guards was positively associated with inability to access addiction treatment, which was also found in a previous study.

    Conclusion

    Accounts of specific interactions with security guards suggest that reforms need to be made to ensure that security guards do to not overstep their legal boundaries in their interactions with people who inject drugs. Broader structural interventions are required to assess risk and harm for people who inject drugs in public spaces.

    Kennedy, M.C., Milloy, M.-J., Markwik, N. et al. (2016). Encounters with private security guards among people who inject drugs in a Canadian setting. International Journal of Drug Policy. 28:124-127.