Campbell River city council has extended the lease for the city’s Downtown Safety Office, ensuring it will remain operational until mid-2023.
The Downtown Safety Office was established in July 2018 to enhance the Campbell River’s downtown safety and security, as recommended by a public safety consultant hired by the city.
Discussions about this office’s effectiveness, held because the building’s lease is set to expire in a few months, spanned the city’s past two committee of the whole meetings, on March 1 and 15, respectively.
On March 1, some members of council stated the office was a failure and that its lease should not be extended, but no vote was held.
In the next meeting, Insp. Jeff Preston, Campbell River RCMP detachment commander, weighed in on the office’s impact to date, saying he is a “huge supporter” of it staying downtown.
“I think we would be going back years if we were to get rid of that building and the presence that it does create,” he said. “Did it solve all the problems? No. Was it designed to solve all the problems? I would hope that wasn’t the only solution, because its presence alone isn’t going to get rid of homelessness.”
The office has increased the presence of bylaw enforcement downtown, he said.
“Right now, if there’s an issue, and a lot of times it’s across the street or at Spirit Square — it’s very easy get out, walk across the street, deal with it, (and) come back.”
According to a report by city staff, the safety office also has provided parking and walk-in service, improved communication, and enhanced street-level enforcement. But despite these factors, the report notes levels of “downtown public disorder” have only increased since 2018.
Currently, the city pays $38,544 per year in lease payments, taxes, and costs for the office.
Later in the March 15 meeting, city council voted to unanimously extend the lease of the safety office to June 2023. (An amendment proposed by Coun. Kermit Dahl to select this date rather than Dec. 31, 2023, to not “tie the hands of the next council,” passed 6-1, with Coun. Claire Moglove voting in opposition.)
One of perceived shortcomings of the safety office is that no RCMP officers are based there.
Preston said because of computer security requirements, having a full-time RCMP member at the safety office is not feasible. Regardless, the RCMP’s time downtown is best spent on the streets, rather than inside an office, he said.
“We want to be seen by the public, by the homeless, by everyone downtown,” he said. “If you see some sort of security official, it makes you feel better about being downtown.”
But given the spike in call volume to which the RCMP is responding, officers now have less time for “proactive policing,” meaning patrolling downtown, he said.
As such, having more of a police presence downtown is a resourcing issue — meaning it would require the hiring of additional officers, he said. Hiring an additional RCMP officer would cost the city approximately $213,000.
An option of moving the safety office to the Centennial Building, which is owned by the city and now houses the Campbell River Art Gallery, was also discussed but not selected.
Peter Wipper, the city’s director of community safety, said there is no “silver bullet” to addressing the problems created by homelessness, mental health, and addictions, in the March 15 meeting.
Wipper listed the moves council has made to address safety downtown, including providing land for BC housing projects, hiring a third bylaw officer, expanding downtown security, and launching a downtown zoning review, to name a few.
“Even though council has helped to create more housing and allocate more resources, our homeless population has continued to grow, and has resulted in larger numbers of people congregating downtown to take advantage of the various social services and larger numbers of people setting up shelter in Nunns Creek Park,” he said.
“Not surprisingly, downtown isn’t the only area of Campbell River affected.”