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Encampments, Public safety and the Polarization of VicPD Policing

A more comprehensive treatment for my positions on housing are in platform number two on this website and in a number of my neighbourhood and NGO survey responses. This statement deals with the issues above.

The most important issue for Downtown, Pandora Street (and the city’s parks for that matter) being occupied by homeless campers is both the reality and perception of crime, unpredictable behaviour and a lack of perceived safety. Many residents are angry with the tolerance for park, neighbourhood or Pandora occupation. Stephen Hammond ran for mayor previously and is now running for council with strong support from these residents.

If we continue to allow people to occupy Pandora or not, it needs to be a secure enclosure, perhaps with fencing decorated similar to James Douglas School and other city schools. Temporary housing indoors such as they had at the Boys and Girls Club and other locations around the city during the winter months should continue. Public washrooms are valid down town for all residents, especially seniors and they are common in some countries. One room portable toilets can be quite nice like airplane facilities and can be about the size of old-style phone booths.

Providing lockable compartments in a secondary security area with washrooms would allow the street people the ability to protect their personal possessions, and be safe when using the toilets. In this area, as in rough parts of Glasgow where I emigrated from, there needs to be an attendant to maintain cleanliness and safety, especially if they are to be left open all night We still would need day and night, full time attendants, security and police presence on the outside in this location.

In the interim, we need to remove the criminal element in the street population by using their crimes as leverage to get them voluntarily or involuntarily committed to treatment. If it is just a matter of criminal behaviour, they need to be sent to an appropriate programme in jail. First Nations need to be part of special programs which suit their specific needs (4 pillar approach ACEH). I do not agree with having the unhoused on Pandora or in any park such as Stadacona..…preferably they would be housed at a different location, with proper washrooms and an opportunity for a safe sleep.

As the Victoria Downtown Residents Neighbourhood Association said, “Increasing concerns about public safety have been in the minds of many lately, particularly those living in urban centres across Canada. These concerns include unprovoked attacks, racial slurs, and societal segregation. Some people view Downtown as unsafe, and are reluctant to visit friends and family who live here. What will you do to address this perception?”

I’ve spoken to someone who witnessed a stabbing in a nightclub washroom, and similar reports of random acts of violence have been reported in the media. Because of this perceived lack of safety, he reported that some young people he knew were now carrying knives or bear spray to protect themselves. It is likely that we already have a gang problem in Victoria.
Just as we have for cancer care, we need full-spectrum care for all our city residents and especially for street people suffering from mental health, addiction and lack of housing. The easiest to house will be those who have mild to no mental health or addiction issues and who are functional. There is much suffering in our general population as well, and their needs are often over looked from needing a new prescription to waiting for a psychiatrist. Much of the self-proclaimed advocates for voluntary treatment vs involuntary are talking as if most of the “street family” are in the easy-to-house category.

The media and mental health advocates focus on the fact that deadly accidents happen in relatively benign yet unpredictable situations when police are the default responders. But benign situations can also turn ugly in civilian responses and civilians are not prepared to handle things when things go south.

Finally, I was at a mental health all-candidates meeting and a number of candidates who spoke seemed to slant themselves towards defunding the police and not allowing involuntary treatment. There was no real opportunity or time to rebut or show the flaws in their arguments in the process. For example, stating that police are not trained to de-escalate situations, and favouring civilian led teams such as PART teams negates the fact that all VicPD officers have crisis intervention and de-escalation (CID) training which is re-certified annually. It also ignores the exceedingly well-trained special Crisis Negotiators utilized in the majority of high-risk critical incidents which also involve the GVERT units.

Passionate advocacy and speaking for other alternate civilian services by keeping the police budget restrained to cost of living increases is also speaking for maintaining low wages for police and the same level of unsustainable service. I saw this used for decades in education, and the same is happening to doctors in the health care system now. A number of these candidates have only been in the city a relatively short period of time and to my mind are taking anti-police positions if only in a financial sense. During education cutbacks people felt more empowered to criticize teachers for not providing proper service to special needs students, and I see the same happening to police officers. This along with deserved and undeserved bad press from elsewhere further polarizes the situation on the street for VicPD members, and it is getting worse.