The City of Campbell River is developing plans to make downtown safer and cleaner, including possibly establishing overnight patrols by private security.
“Health and safety challenges” downtown resulting from “unsheltered homelessness” and the opioid epidemic became more frequent and visible over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. This issue came to a head in August 2020, when a special meeting of council was held to hear from community members about how they were being impacted.
In response, council focused on several priorities to address the problem, one of which was increasing enforcement. Ways of doing this were presened to council in Ocober 2020, which included extending private security patrols beyond 8 p.m., hiring an additional bylaw officer or hiring an additional RCMP member.
This summer, Downtown BIA took matters into its own hands, by organizing overnight patrols conducted by a private security firm, Blackbird Security, funded by is member businesses and property owners.
City council again considered this issue during an Aug. 24 committee of the whole meeting, and passed a motion requesting a report on hiring additional security, either funded directly by the city, or indirectly through Downtown BIA. It passed 5-2 with Mayor Andy Adams and Coun. Kermit Dahl voting in opposition.
Providing additional security patrols is being considered as a short-term solution to the issue, said Coun. Charlie Cornfield. Increasing municipal or RCMP enforcement are seen as more long-term approaches, and council passed a motion to refer considering those measures in upcoming financial budgetary discussions.
But each of the four options are not mutually exclusive, explained CAO Deborah Sargent.
Coun. Kermit Dahl said overnight security patrols should extend beyond the central business district.
“I don’t think Discovery Auto Body, Tyee Chev, Starbucks, Dairy Queen — just to name a few — would like to see this being contained just to the downtown, when those are also local Campbell River businesses paying significant taxes (and) that are being plundered by the downtown situation.
Coun. Sean Smyth suggested even a wider area be considered.
“I think we should come to terms that it should probably go all the way to Nunns Creek and Walmart on the east side,” said Smyth.
Considerations regarding the exact boundaries of the patrolled area will be included in the report.
A motion was also passed to direct city staff to increase operational funding to improve the level of downtown cleanliness downtown. But the motion was left open-ended to examine a range of ways to complete this, including partnerships with other groups.
“I think, the motion, the way it’s worded, provides a broad enough brush to be able to be creative, and engage with the volunteers and other agencies that can help make our city as clean as it can be,” said Adams.
Council may be considering closing the downtown safety office, the city’s lease of which is set to expire. However, discussions on this were moved in-camera and out of public view, as is customary for property acquisition issues. But should this step be taken, the city will need to house four full-time staff in other city buildings.