Nanaimo city councillors support short-term investment in downtown security, and are also interested in a longer-term strategy around public safety.
Councillors, at a finance and audit committee meeting Wednesday, April 14, recommended in an 8-1 vote that $400,000 be spent on overnight security in all areas of the downtown, then voted unanimously to recommend spending $50,000 to hire a consultant to create a public safety action plan.
Dale Lindsay, the city’s general manager of development services, told councillors that the city’s funding partnership with the Old City Quarter business improvement association for nighttime security in that part of time lasts only until June. He said the city’s current nighttime security, by necessity, spends “95 per cent” of its time patrolling parkades, and the additional spending would allow for better coverage throughout the downtown and Old City.
Mayor Leonard Krog said if people don’t feel safe staying at downtown accommodations, going to restaurants, bars and pubs, and doing business in the area, “all of the good work that’s gone into this downtown of our wonderful city for decades is going to be wasted. So I don’t think we have a choice.”
Coun. Tyler Brown was the only one who voted in opposition, saying that with council anticipating a report on emergency shelters and potentially a public safety action plan, the discussion would be “better informed” at a later date.
However, most councillors agreed more security was needed, including Coun. Zeni Maartman who made the motion to spend the $400,000 from reserves.
“We need places for [people experiencing mental health and addictions issues] to go where they can be cared for, where society can actually look after them, and housing alone isn’t going to do it,” she said. “So I think we have to do something for our city and our downtown in the meantime for people that are shopping there, people that do live there. This security will go some ways in the optics of making us feel safer, even if we’re technically not.”
Coun. Jim Turley also brought up optics, saying it’s important that downtown appears more inviting and that the province sees the financial impacts of social issues cities are facing.
Coun. Ian Thorpe said even if some “street people” are happy to accept shelter in sleeping cabins, some won’t, and security problems will still exist.
“Whatever we do in the longer term, I think we owe it to our business community and our taxpaying citizens … to do something right now, to try and give them some relief, to send them a signal that yes, we feel their pain,” Thorpe said.
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong, though she voted in favour, said she would prefer the city spend the money on permanent positions in the bylaws department. The city’s chief administrative officer Jake Rudolph said the public safety action plan would include an examination of staffing levels in bylaws, Nanaimo RCMP and private security.
Coun. Erin Hemmens’s subsequent motion to spend $50,000 from the special initiatives reserve on a public safety action plan passed unanimously.