The Victoria Police Department (VicPD) and the downtown business community are calling for an increased police presence in the downtown core. Bolstered by VicPD statistics that show an 13.8-per-cent increase in property crime offenses in Victoria and Esquimalt between 2013 and 2017, an 11.8-per-cent rise in violent crime, and a rise in non-criminal calls for service, the VicPD has requested a 6.01-per-cent budget hike in 2019. The request was referred back to the police board by Victoria City Council with suggested modifications that would leave the VicPD with $1.67 million less than asked for in their original budget proposal.
Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, says the business community has seen an increase in the level of unsafe behaviour from the street population, from sleeping in doorways to erratic behaviour. He notes a decrease in overall feelings of safety for employees working downtown.
“It’s not that downtown isn’t safe, but I would say that there seems to be a level of permissiveness around the behaviour of those who are dealing with various issues on the street that five years ago wouldn’t [have been] tolerated,” says Bray. “Business owners pay three and a half times the residential property rates, they pay for a big chunk of policing and services, and they feel like they aren’t getting the support.”
Centralization of services and support for people dealing with homelessness, addictions and mental illness downtown has also been identified by police and business advocates as part of the problem. A decentralized model, in which some services and low-income housing are moved to other municipalities, could alleviate some of the stresses facing downtown.
Erin Boggs, co-owner of Robinson’s Outdoor Store on Broad Street, says while she and her staff feel safe at work, she has noticed an increase in homelessness and shoplifting. And while most of the interactions she has with the street population are positive, there have been difficult episodes that required help by private security firm Themis or the police.
VicPD Chief Constable Del Manak says despite having the heaviest police presence per capita in Canada, his force struggles to cover its bases. The VicPD hasn’t seen a permanent increase to front-line staff since 2010. Manak says long response times paired with increased social disorder downtown are making the community lose faith in the force.
“The community has told us loud and clear that they want to see more officers visible — on foot, on bikes, proactively walking the beat, in the downtown core,” he says. “Our calls and complexity and demands from the community are going up and we are at a breaking point where we need to make sure that we can continue to add enough officers to provide the response that the community has asked for.”
This article is from the February/March 2019 issue of Douglas.