Members of the Victoria Crescent Association want the city to reconsider a decision to close an office they say helps keep the area safer.
Nanaimo city council voted unanimously last Monday to close the community policing and services office on Victoria Crescent to save $40,000 per year and consolidate bylaw and parking services at the service and resource centre on Dunsmuir Street.
Though ‘community policing’ is emblazoned on the awning and the RCMP logo is in the window, the office hasn’t been used for that purpose in a decade. Of late, only one parking clerk has been working there most days, though bylaw officers come and go.
Kevan Shaw, president of the Victoria Crescent Association, said business and property owners and residents “feel betrayed and disheartened” at the decision to close the office, especially during a time when public process is limited due to physical distancing measures. He said the office is “integral” to downtown safety.
“The bylaw officers … who work out of the office know how to handle situations and make downtown a priority since their office has been located here,” Shaw said. “Now, their eyes and ears will be gone.”
David Frost, manager of the A&W on Victoria Crescent, said the neighbourhood is “pretty rough and tumble,” with homelessness, drug problems and crime. He said there have been instances in which he and his employees, often young women, have been able to quickly alert bylaw officers about personal safety concerns and have received immediate assistance.
“Now’s the time we need more [help] and that’s what this provided, it provided a face so that people could actually see, OK, the cops are over there, bylaw officers are over there,” Frost said. “Especially in the middle of a pandemic, we need people here and we need them as close as we can get them. I wish they were set up in my dining room.”
Shaw pointed out that city staff’s report to council noted that people wielding weapons had entered the CPSO, and suggested that it will be business owners and residents who will be left to face those sorts of situations.
“When the city says [a] reason for closing the community services office is because people with baseball bats are walking in, you know there’s problems and we need the help,” he said.
The city staff report noted that the CPSO is often staffed by only a parking clerk, and it is the bylaw officers, not the office itself, that provide “an important and sustaining security and safety role” in their daily foot patrols.
“It is their continued presence on the streets that brings a measure of public safety, which would be unchanged if they operated from SARC,” the report notes. “The CPSO should not be viewed as a panacea that reduces crime or disorder in the area.”