The Downtown Campbell River Business Improvement Association (BIA) is establishing overnight security patrols downtown and is seeking more businesses to sign up for the service.
The organization has been working with Blackbird Security, a private security firm, for the company to start 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. patrols to help improve safety and security in the city’s core, explained Heather Gordon Murphy, Downtown BIA chair.
“There are no boots-on-the-ground security in Campbell River at night,” she said. “If things don’t shift and change, people will find different places to put their businesses, because it’s just too much work and extra expenses to keep dealing with the problem.”
Blackbird performs community patrols in other municipalities, including Duncan, Vernon and the Commercial Drive BIA in Vancouver. In Campbell River, the patrols will cover an area extending beyond the Downtown BIA boundary, from Pier Street to the Campbell River Common Shopping Centre, starting this month.
Businesses will pay for this service, with Downtown CR BIA acting as an intermediary. Currently 12 businesses or property owners have signed up for the patrols, with others interested, said Gordon Murphy.
“I am getting support from businesses that have seen Blackbird do their job, but we’re still in the phase of getting more on board,” she said.
While several owners have said they would like nightly patrols every night of the week, they will occur two or three nights a week to start.
“We need to start somewhere and have others see it working, then maybe we will be able to expand” she said.
As more businesses sign up for the service, the cost to businesses will decrease. The cost of a two-nights-a-week patrol is $464, equating to $23.20 per business per week if 20 businesses sign up for the service or $9.29 per businesses per week if 50 sign up. The total cost of a three-night-a-week patrol is $696.
The patrols will not replace the work of police and municipal enforcement, but rather enhance them, explained Sean Smith, Blackbird’s district supervisor for North Vancouver Island.
“We see what the RCMP and the city don’t see, because they can’t be everywhere all the time,” said Smith.
“It also saves the RCMP having to deal with the smaller stuff — would we rather they be out responding to domestic violence or to somebody who’s sleeping in an alcove where they should not be?”
By documenting issues that are often otherwise unreported, Blackbird helps ensure they are tracked.
“The lack of that information getting to the RCMP, and thus not getting to the city, leaves them short on the resources that they need,” he said.
“If there’s an active problem, then that file is added to the list of files the inspector can take to council and say, ‘here are the issues downtown.’”
Blackbird uses an approach like that of a traditional beat cop, separating it from other security companies, said Smith.
“They have specific places to be at a specific time, and click a button to say they’ve been there, whereas we are just tooling around town — whether it be on foot, on bike or by car, we just show up,” he said. “We analyze where people are congregating on a regular basis, and we make a point of showing up there to make sure encampments aren’t starting or a big party isn’t going.”
Blackbird performed a demonstration overnight patrol on July 1, which interacted with about 30 people, including over a dozen who were “well and truly intoxicated.”
“We broke up several encampments in and around the downtown core and got them out of spaces that they’re not supposed to be in, where they would potentially cause problems,” he said.
The patrol also captured body camera footage of an individual later seen on surveillance stealing from a local business. That imagery was given to the RCMP who used it to help identify that person, he said.
While Smith says these patrols are not a solution to downtown homelessness, they could help resolve or reduce many of the offshoot issues being felt in Campbell River.
“Having security downtown is about more than keeping businesses secure — that’s definitely a big part of it — but it’s more to keep the peace, whether it be amongst the people that are living on the street downtown, having to deal with new faces that can be a little more aggressive or help that interface between the public and the homeless,” he said.
“Those are all positive outcomes for the town.”