My recent comments on public safety in and around downtown. Mike Smyth Show – 980 CKNW. October 5, 2021.
In recent months there have been growing concerns about public safety in downtown and surrounding neighbourhoods. Residents and businesses alike are asking – what can be done and what are we doing to ensure the city is safe and inclusive for all residents?
We’re writing this letter to tell you – we hear you, we share your concerns, and we are taking steps to address them. This means:
- Supporting and appropriately funding our police force so they can respond to emergencies as well as proactively address vandalism, crime and safety issues;
- Increasing police presence and patrols in affected neighbourhoods;
- Continuing to advocate strongly for Provincial support of:
- More wraparound services for people in need, including mental health and addiction treatment and recovery options
- A complex care housing system that provides services for people who are falling through the cracks in the current supportive housing model
- On site supportive services in dedicated social housing projects
- Ensuring police officers are trained in de-escalation, trauma informed response, conflict resolution and anti-racism;
- Supporting de-escalation information and resources.
During last year’s budget debate, we opposed deep cuts to the police budget, and fought to support the Vancouver Police Board endorsed budget, which would have made some of these actions possible.
Police and fire are critical services – services that have changed with the times and need to continue to evolve to effectively serve our communities.
The Province has recognized this, and is currently undertaking an important review of the Police Act. Recommendations from the review are expected next Spring. We can expect those recommendations to consider a more health-centered response to mental health and addiction crises. And we need to be open to exploring new approaches to an opioid crisis that takes more lives daily and annually than the Covid-19 pandemic has.
Meanwhile the fact remains that we do not have an alternative framework for effectively or safely responding to the myriad of issues that are playing out on our streets. We need to concurrently support and fund our police force so they can serve our collective interest in a city where everyone feels safe to live and work.
Like many organizations, police forces need to look inwards and address systemic racism and biases. Knee jerk moves to defund the police are not the answer. Thoughtful and planned systems change is the only way to address public safety, and to adapt services to respond to the mental health and addiction related crises playing out on our streets and in our neighbourhoods.
Through the UBCM (Union of BC Municipalities) Conference this week, we are actively meeting with Provincial Ministers including the Ministers of Public Safety, Housing, and Mental Health. These issues are top priorities for our discussions, and will continue to be our focus to bring solutions forward working with the different levels of government to address these critical and complex challenges.
We encourage the Mayor and Council to come together and have a real discussion about the critical issue of public safety in the city. While the Province continues its cross-ministry work on issues related to mental health, addictions, and complex care housing, we cannot simply sit and wait. Our mandate as local government is to work effectively with police and ensure public safety.