Most of Nanaimo’s Townsite area residents say they feel safe in their neighbourhood, despite break-ins, thefts and drug use.
Nanaimo Community Policing recently released a report on the Townsite Area Neighbourhood Safety Audit conducted this past fall. The audit included a 34-question online survey for merchants and other residents, followed by a community safety walk. Surveys were also sent to members of the six Block Watch chapters in the area.
The neighbourhood safety audits were started in 2021 and are intended to give residents and business operators a chance to have their voices heard, promote collaboration between neighbourhoods and promote neighbourhood safety by identifying the factors related to safety and crime and to offer recommendations addressing neighbourhood concerns, according to community policing.
Jon Stuart, Nanaimo Community Policing coordinator, said the survey garnered only a few dozen responses. Of the people who responded, 79 per cent of said they felt safe or very safe walking alone in the daytime, but only 55 per cent felt safe walking alone at night.
The report also noted a large number of respondents indicated they had been victims of break and enters and thefts or knew of others who were victims of those crimes. Thefts from vehicles and a marked increase in unhoused persons, drug use and people with mental health issues were also noted.
“In general, the Townsite neighbourhood has a high sense of community, and people are happy to live here. The general dissatisfaction trends are over the occurrence of thefts, and the presence of homelessness and drug use – often reported hand-in-hand with each other,” the report concluded.
The walk around the Townsite neighbourhood Nov. 15, led by Stuart, Nanaimo RCMP reserve Const. Gary O’Brien, and a Université de Moncton criminology practicum student who compiled data for the audit, helped identify where principles of crime prevention through environmental design could be applied.
Residents who took part in the walk said they recognize marginalized people need services like the Unitarian Shelter, but said some of the disorder that happens nearby is “completely out of hand,” according to the report.
Some of the problems, real or perceived, could be addressed by making changes according to CPTED principles, such as adding a street light to illuminate a dark alley behind the Unitarian Shelter. In other instances fences or hedges that block the view of properties could be lowered so those properties can be seen from the street and if anyone is attempting break-ins or vandalism.
“It’s really all about getting to know your neighbours and that leads in to the Block Watch, which then lends to a better sense of community. If you have lots of Block Watches the community is working with itself to make it better,” Stuart said.
He added that people can also volunteer with Nanaimo Community Policing, which currently has 40 volunteers from across the city.
“There’s always a way to get involved with your community and make it better,” Stuart said.
O’Brien said there’s a reason 16,000 people in Nanaimo are now involved in Block Watch chapters around the city.
“It’s all about our commitment to community engagement, as well, through community policing,” O’Brien said. “If people want an opportunity to vent, to share, to discuss, [the audit] is the chance to do it.”
Problems identified from the safety audits are shared with the neighbour community associations and Block Watch chapters and are also forwarded to the Nanaimo RCMP and the city for potential follow-up.