BEND, OR -- Earlier this week, CODE Detectives arrested an alleged drug trafficker operating in China Hat Road camps, highlighting increased drug enforcement efforts in these areas. "Many of these Drug Trade Organizations have started recognizing the vulnerable communities that are in homeless encampments," Sgt. Kent van der Kamp tells KBND News.
He oversees the Central Oregon Drug Enforcement (CODE) team and says over the last eight to 12 months, Drug Trade Organizations (DTOs) from Mexico and Honduras gained a foothold in camps - first in Portland and now here, selling cheap and highly addictive fentanyl. "And there’s different theories," says Sgt. van der Kamp, "One of them is that they feel safe and they can operate with impunity because the police are less likely to come into the camp and raid the camp. So we’re seeing that quite often, right now. And we have seen that practice being used here, where they’re finding a vulnerable person - usually an addict - to be a runner or to be a holder for them and distribute the drugs within the camps; because there is a large population inside those camps that are fentanyl addicts." He adds, "We knew that that was going on, but it has progressively gotten worse, and perhaps maybe it’s because the camps are now consolidating and they’re becoming a little bit more concentrated."
He speculates traffickers think they’re protected by a houseless community hesitant to contact police. But that has changed, "They’ve actually reached out to us saying, ‘hey, I’m not feeling safe. This is what’s going on in the camp that I’m living in, and these are the people doing it. But if they find out that I’m talking to the police, they’re going to beat me up and throw me out of the camp and I’ve got nowhere to live."
Van der Kamp insists CODE doesn't investigate the camps, but the illegal activity happening inside, "With the drug sales and that environment comes violence and theft and extortion and stories of human trafficking, where these fentanyl distributors are using other Honduran kids to sell drugs. So, that’s what we’re focusing on; not so much the homelessness part, but that’s where the targets are taking us."
Click HERE to listen to the full exclusive conversation with CODE commander Sgt. Kent van der Kamp.