Nanaimo Mounties expect the community will notice a difference once an RCMP task force boosts the police presence around two temporary supportive housing sites.
Earlier this week, Nanaimo RCMP Supt. Cameron Miller advised city council that a task force was being established to specifically try to reduce crime around the Terminal Avenue and Labieux Road supportive housing sites.
Const. Gary O’Brien, media spokesman with the Nanaimo RCMP, said the task force will be in place “soon” and will have at least a half-dozen uniformed and undercover officers. He said the task force’s mission will be to stamp out ongoing criminal behaviour at or near the sites.
O’Brien said police will target drug trafficking in and around the supportive housing complexes.
“We know a lot of the crimes are not necessarily by people who are residing in the either the Labieux or Terminal projects,” he said.
O’Brien said members of the task force are all from the Nanaimo RCMP detachment, adding that there was previously no set number of officers assigned to handle the temporary supportive housing file. He said once the task force hits the streets, it will be operational indefinitely.
“We are certainly going to be re-evaluating after a certain number of days or weeks but we expect, and the public expects us as well, to clean up these areas and that is what we are going to do,” O’Brien said.
Days before the task force was announced, B.C.’s housing minister, Selina Robinson, claimed in a letter to opposition MLA Rich Coleman that crime at the temporary supportive housing sites had not increased. However, the ministry of housing, in an e-mail to the News Bulletin, said since Robinson’s letter, she has become aware of new data showing a “significant increase” in calls for service.
“Before this week, staff were aware of an increase in the number of calls to the neighbourhoods surrounding the new modular supportive housing developments in Nanaimo, but as the RCMP have stated, calls for service and actual crime are two different things,” the ministry noted. “Due to the unique situation in Nanaimo, where the new housing had to be provided within a six-week period, increased calls for service were expected due to the rapid relocation of many vulnerable people.”
O’Brien wouldn’t specifically address comments made by the minister or anyone else, but said crime has risen at and around both sites since temporary supportive housing was erected.
“There has been an increase in crime in those areas,” he said. “We see it daily. We saw it with tent city. Those individuals have been displaced and a lot of those individuals are now at Terminal and a lot of those individuals are at Labieux and they have caused pressure in both communities and we see that on a daily basis.”
According to recent data provided by the Nanaimo RCMP, police received 1,900 calls for service for the Terminal Avenue and Labieux Road neighbourhoods between late November 2018 – when both temporary supportive housing sites were established – and late March, representing a combined 93 per cent increase from 2017-2018.
O’Brien said while many of the calls for service were “not criminal” in nature, the temporary supportive housing sites have added tension to the surrounding neighbourhoods, adding that call for service in the Port Drive neighbourhood dropped off following the closure of Discontent City. He said the police are aware of what is going on in the community and that the task force will address the concerns of residents.
“We know that these projects have put pressure on these communities and we have been actively engaged with the partners and the residences of that area and we have listened to their concerns,” he said. “We are addressing them within our budget and our manpower that we have. You can expect to see an increased presence of police officers in those areas.”
Nanaimo RCMP are confident residents will notice a difference once the task force is in place.
“We fully expect results. We know who is committing crime in our neighbourhoods and we know who is committing crimes in certain areas and we will be going after those individuals…” O’Brien said. “What we want individuals who are involved in criminality to know is that this is not an area where you are going to carry out your illegal activities and I think that message will get out very clearly.”
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