Two weeks ago, a contingent of downtown business people appeared in Council chambers to draw attention to their long festering frustration and anger at conditions in the downtown. Open drug dealing, ingestion of drugs, urine, feces, business people feeling threatened, and customers and clients being driven away have compelled these business people to bring the issue to the attention of the city.
But why is this issue being brought forward by the business community rather than by the leadership of the New Westminster Police Services?
This issue has been building for some time, why have Police Services been quiet about the issue? The same must be asked of the Police Board.
A recent article in the RECORD says the city has now hired a security company to patrol the downtown seven days a week, between 6:00 A.M and 10:00P.M. And now an article in the NEWSLEADER reveals that several businesses in the downtown are considering installing video surveillance cameras.
While video surveillance cameras certainly bring up issues of civil liberties, one has to ask why these merchants are moving in this direction with such desperation.
In 1999-2000, there was a situation in the downtown where scores of illegal immigrants from Central America, and others, were selling drugs in the downtown. In that case, as the seriousness of the situation mounted, the police were also silent on the issue. However, the Council of the day acted decisively and dealt with the situation effectively. That Council gathered the Police Board and senior police staff into a room and stated very clearly that the situation was out of control, that it was unacceptable, and that it would not be tolerated. As a result, a complex integrated plan of action was put forward by the senior management team. It was funded, it was executed, and with a tremendous effort the situation was resolved.
The July 16, 2008 RECORD reports that the city has once again put together an integrated plan. I believe the plan has merit given that the main architect of the plan is Lisa Spitale. However, I seriously doubt that the political leadership is capable of, or is even interested in, a long term sustainable solution to the problems that have taken hold of the Downtown.
The RECORD article outlines several measures intended to deal with the situation: Increased foot patrols, undercover operations, no-go orders from the courts, private security, enhanced street cleaning and maintenance, by-law enforcement and an off leash dog park were all put forward as examples of measures the city can implement. The July 16, 2008 RECORD quotes Mayor Wright response to the plan as follows: “That dog park is brilliant,” said Mayor Wayne Wright, “It will work.” Yes, that’s right, the Mayor, fresh from a junket to China, was able to zero in on the salient part of the plan — the dog park. Now if that doesn’t inspire confidence in the Mayor’s analytical prowess I don’t know what will.
New Westminster consistently ranks in the top two or three in the Metro Region in categories of crime per capita, police expenditure per capita, case load per officer and ranks low in clearance (solved crimes) rates. Given what is happening in the downtown, it is clearly time to take a serious look at a Regional Police Force. The public have shown a high level of interest in the idea of a Regional Police Force and Angus Reid polls reveal that the majority of residents in the region favour the creation of a regional force.
An examination of New Westminster’s Police Services provides several reasons for taking a serious look at a Regional Police Force: a highly politicized and ineffective Police Board and a moribund leadership in police services has led to low morale in the force, defections, premature retirements, a spotty record of dealing effectively with gender based issues and a commonly held view by the rank and file that the leadership is still trapped in the ‘eighties.’
Some months ago, when the Mayor was asked by the local press what his opinion on the issue of a Regional Police Force was, he stated that he was against it because nobody could explain to him what it would look like. After five years in the Mayor’s office, and a decade-long public discussion on the issue of a Regional Police Force, why is it beyond the grasp of Mayor Wright to envision what a regional force would look like?
Gang warfare in the Lower Mainland, again, has exploded, and individual municipal forces, including those municipalities served by the RCMP, are incapable of effectively dealing with it. Despite the creation of some regional integrated task forces, the patchwork of municipal forces has not been able to constructively deal with the situation.
Crime does not recognize borders. It is time to seriously examine the notion of a Regional Police Force. Several high ranking police personnel in the Lower Mainland (those who are allowed to speak on the issue by their mayors) have come out in support of a Regional Police Force. The B.C. Chamber of Commerce has expressed support for the idea, and Dr. Robert Gordon, head of SFU’s School of Criminology has presented a well thought out and compelling case for an amalgamated police force.
Security cameras and the hiring of security personnel to patrol the downtown are the strongest evidence yet that our police services are simply incapable of providing safety and security in the downtown because of inadequate leadership. It is time for a serious examination of regional amalgamation of police services in the Lower Mainland and it is time for some leadership.