Activate Safety Task Force Final Report

Report made to city council July 9th:

The formal mandate of the Activate Safety Task Force is "to address issues related to
the impacts of homelessness, poverty, addictions, and criminal behaviour on the local
business community."1
To this end, the Task Force engaged the business community through direct discussions
and a "Town Hall" held on April 5, 2018 at the Schubert Centre, at which approximately
160 business owners and stakeholders attended. Two broad themes emerged from the
Town Hall:
1) A sense of lawlessness and urban decay in Vernon. This is especially true in
certain locations, most notably in the Business Improvement Area west of
Highway 97, around the Shelter and the Mission, and in the locale of Howard
House and the former Legion. Among the most prevalent of these issues are
open drug use, open drug dealing, petty theft, graffiti, and open sexual activity.
2) Calls for Council to take action. It became apparent that there is a perceived
imbalance between efforts to help the street entrenched and transient
population on one hand, and efforts to protect the security of businesses and
business patrons on the other. Numerous specific issues were identified at the
Town Hall (see Appendix 1), and from questionnaires handed in, at or following
the Town Hall (see Appendix 2).
In addition, anecdotal accounts from local street entrenched individuals and letters from
businesses indicate a decreased sense of safety around Vernon generally and an
increased incidence of crime in the locale of Howard House specifically. However, the
phenomenon is not unique to those locations, with complaints received from as far afield
as 43rd Ave & Alexis Park Dr and 53rd Ave near 27th St. These reports include frequent
vandalism and theft of bicycles in the former case, and drug dealing, open drug use, and
violence at the latter.
MEMBERSHIP:
Voting members
Vicki Eide - Community at large
Rick Lavin - Community at large
Darrin Taylor - Greater Vernon Chamber of Commerce
Selena Stearns - Downtown Vernon Association2
Kari Wilton - City of Vernon Tourism Advisory Committee
1 May 14, 2018 Regular Council Meeting,
https://www.vernon.ca/sites/default/files/docs/meetings/agendas/180514regular_agenda_pkg_revised.pdf,
43
2Susan Lehman, Executive Director of the DVA, was initially the DVA representative but was forced to
withdraw due to personal reasons.
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Non-voting members
Constable Kerni Parish - RCMP
Kevin Korol - City of Vernon Bylaw
Councillor Scott Anderson - Vernon City Council
Councillor Brian Quiring - Vernon City Council.
PROCESS:
The Task Force is premising many of its recommendations on the Broken Windows
theory.3In a nutshell this means that reversing the trend will depend on a joint effort
between law enforcement, the municipality, the community, and business owners. No
single one of these groups can successfully address and reverse the negative trend by
itself.
Procedurally, the Task Force operated by general consensus in identifying issues and
examining and compiling solutions. Representatives from RCMP and Bylaw
Enforcement had significant input in explaining the issues and proposing solutions.
ISSUES:
Some of the issues identified in Appendices 1 and 2 are redundancies or part of a larger
grouping.4Others are mainly or entirely under provincial jurisdiction, and yet others don't
really fall under the heading of a complaint.' The following issues are a distillation of raw
feedback into categories that either fall under municipal jurisdiction or can be addressed
in some way by Council.
The Task Force recommends that Council refer this report to city administration for an
immediate strategy to implement these recommendations.
I. ISSUE: ENFORCEMENT
DESCRIPTION: There is a public perception that the RCMP and Bylaw Enforcement are
allowing open drug use and street level drug dealing, and turning a blind eye to
prostitution. Based on discussions within the Task Force as well as at Council, this
perception is factually incorrect. However, the Task Force found several areas that can
be improved in order to alter this perception.
The following enforcement proposals are designed to be seasonal and may not be
needed as a long term corrective. They are designed to address the current situation
and "send a message" to all stakeholders that Vernon intends to remain one of the best
places to live and do business in British Columbia.
DISCUSSION:
1) The RCMP has only two positions currently dedicated to community safety duty,
one of which is vacant.
3Proposed by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982, Broken Windows is a metaphor for disorder
within neighbourhoods, and the theory links disorder and incivility within a community to urban decay and
subsequent occurrences of more serious crime.
4For example "used condoms" is a subset of "garbage/litter" or "prostitution" as the case may be.
5"Mental illness" for example, is neither a complaint nor under municipal jurisdiction.
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2) Bylaw currently operates on a complaint-initiated basis. While this works well in
most cases of bylaw infraction, it tends to re-enforce the perception that they are
talking a "hands-off' approach when it comes to problem areas.
3) Bylaw does not begin work until 8:30 a.m., after many business staff arrive at
work, putting staff in the position of having to deal with street entrenched people
in public and private spaces and alcoves.
4) Neither the RCMP nor Bylaw has regular foot or bicycle patrols or any form of
close uniformed presence.
5) A number of businesses are employing private security.
RECOMMENDATIONS:
1) RCMP
a) Council request the expansion of an RCMP Downtown Enforcement Unit,
including ongoing foot and bike patrols.
b) Council ask RCMP to update on 6 new funded positions.
c) Council ask RCMP to arrest "Johns" in an effort to hinder prostitution.
2) Bylaw
a) Council support two new fulltime equivalent Bylaw hires dedicated to
seasonal foot/bike patrols in trouble spots identified by Bylaw/RCMP.
b) Council support an earlier daily start for proactive seasonal Bylaw officers
(e.g. 7 a.m.). This will allow Bylaw to attend RCMP Watches (briefings) in the
morning prior to street duty at 7:30 a.m. and help coordinate the two.
c) Council support an earlier annual start for seasonal Bylaw officers (e.g. March
- October).
d) Council support a proactive (instead of complaint-initiated) approach by
Bylaw to issues related to drug use, graffiti, litter, prostitution, panhandling.
e) Council support a tough interpretation and proactive enforcement of existing
bylaws related to drug use, graffiti, litter, prostitution, panhandling.
3) The City fund, on an annual basis, private security for an after hours patrol.
II. ISSUE: DRUG USE AND PREVENTION
DESCRIPTION: There are numerous accounts of open (hard) drug use, as suggested
by the fact that 42% of complainants at the Town Hall mentioned it. These accounts can
also be found in general social discourse, including social media.
DISCUSSION:
1) Drug use coupled with a lack of consequences implies police and community
consent.
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2) Citizens, including children, are increasingly exposed to the sight of (hard) drug
use and occasional overdose. One Vernon daycare, for example, reported
frequent drug use and numerous overdoses within sight of the children. Other
reports include open drug use in Linear and Poison Parks, numerous back alleys,
and occasionally on main streets. Such sights add to a sense of general
degradation and occasionally of danger.
3) Interior Health Authority appears to be developing plans for provincially
sponsored "overdose prevention" sites, where drug users are able to inject
drugs.
4) IHA is attempting to "de-stigmatize" addiction in an effort to facilitate harm
reduction. While this is a laudable undertaking from the point of view of harm
reduction, it can be directly at odds with any effort to curb open drug use and
trafficking.
5) IHA is consulting only with C.A.T. - a subgroup of the Social Planning Council
(Community Action Team). The C.A.T. is pursuing a large grant to study the
implementation of overdose prevention sites in Vernon. There is no mechanism
nor plan to gather wider community and Council input to date.
6) IHA is primarily focussed on harm reduction rather than treatment.
RECOMMENDATION(S):
It is the feeling of the committee, based on discussions with businesses, RCMP, and
Bylaw that a uniformed presence, coupled with an urgency to intervene and prosecute,
will have a significant deterrent effect to open drug use and other problems. In addition
to the general recommendations under "Enforcement" above, the Task Force makes the
following specific recommendations:
1) Council and RCMP encourage business and public reporting of open drug use
and/or trafficking.
2) Council request more information from RCMP and Bylaw to Council and the
public on law enforcement strategies and initiatives, wherever possible.'
3) Council request IHA to take into consideration the impacts of its harm reduction
policies on businesses and the community.
4) Council urge IHA to focus on full treatment measures as well as harm reduction
measures.
5) Council ensure that Council, businesses, and community are directly involved in
any decisions to do with harm reduction measures, including provinciallysponsored
overdose prevention sites.
6This does not mean detailed plans, but rather broad general strategies in order to let t
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6) Council take a public position with regard to harm reduction measures, including
overdose prevention sites.
III. ISSUE: IMPROPERLY DISCARDED NEEDLES
DESCRIPTION: Needles found in numerous locations, and particular concern over
needles in and around playgrounds.
DISCUSSION:
1) The Task Force contacted Interior Health Authority (IHA) and received a
presentation on harm reduction efforts on Wednesday, May 23, 2018.
2) Needle dispensing was at one time through needle exchange. Due to under-use,
the method was changed to a give-away. While this method works better from
the point of view of harm reduction, it has allowed abandoned needles to
proliferate.
3) Remediation efforts by IHA include:
a) "Pin Program" - a project whereby members of the street entrenched
population are given a pin and encouraged to pick up discarded needles
in exchange for being entered in a draw for prizes;
b) Two steel needle deposit containers to be installed in strategic spots in
Vernon; and
c) Proposed "overdose prevention sites."7
4) Remediation efforts by other organizations include a monthly volunteer needle
pickup initiative.
5) In spite of these efforts, needles are quite frequently found across Vernon by
members of the public, and in many incidences are posted on social media.
6) A perception exists that there is no formal point of contact to report discarded
needles, nor any mechanism for any organization to deal with them once
reported.
RECOMMENDATION(S):
1) Council ask IHA to review its needle distribution system to find a balance
between harm reduction and the public nuisance of abandoned needles.
2) The City match IHA's contribution of two large steel needle containers.
3) City staff determine if/how liability for abandoned needles fit within the Good
Neighbour Bylaw (or any other relevant Bylaw).
4) Council ask IHA and other service providers to consult and interact with
businesses and the community on future needle distribution plans.
5) Council ask Community Policing to engage with businesses and the public on the
degree of risk and safe handling of improperly discarded needles.
7"Overdose prevention sites" and "safe injection sites" are largely the same thing, but the former is under
Provincial jurisdiction and the latter under federal jurisdiction.
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6) Council ask Community Policing to initiate a public information campaign on
who/how to report improperly discarded needles.
7) The City to initiate and fund a needle refund program to be implemented by the
appropriate service providers. (le. 5 cents per needle)
IV. ISSUE: LITTER AND URBAN DECAY
DESCRIPTION: Garbage, litter, dumpster diving, burnt out street lights, used condoms
etc. Several subcategories have been lumped into this category, since all of them have
to do with litter or general degradation in some form. Businesses report that garbage etc.
is frequently strewn around back alleys, secondary streets, and around dumpsters.
DISCUSSION:
1) The litter left from activities by the street entrenched population and illegal
dumping by others contribute to a general degradation of the neighbourhood, and
its continuing presence suggests a tolerance on the part of the City for urban
decay.
2) Responsibility for cleaning up litter is an issue, with some businesses claiming it
is not their fault and should not be their problem to solve, and others looking for
leadership from the city in how to proceed.
3) Garbage/recycling pickup is in the early morning, requiring business owners to
either put garbage/recycling out in the very early morning, or put it out the night
before. If it is left out the night before, it is often strewn about by morning, but on
the other hand it is unrealistic to expect business owners to attend at 7 am to put
it out.
RECOMMENDATION(S):
1) The City require garbage/recycling times that don't force business owners to
leave garbage/recycling out overnight.
2) The City require businesses to lock commercial bins when left out at night.
3) The City encourage property owners to:
a) take "ownership" of their space;
b) develop cooperative weekly cleanup of back alleys;
c) report and attempt to prosecute observed cases of littering/graffiti; and
d) secure garbage/recycling with locks if necessary.
4) Council demand that BC Hydro replace burnt out lights in a timely manner.
5) Bylaw to proactively enforce the above.
6) The City alert businesses to #4 above.
7) The City fund and support disposal costs for illegally dumped refuse on private
property.
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V. ISSUE: DEFECATION IN PUBLIC AREAS
DESCRIPTION: Numerous businesses report having to deal with public defecation,
resulting smell, cleanup costs, and a general degradation in the public space.
DISCUSSION:
1) Bylaw and RCMP advised that public toilets attract dangerous and/or criminal
behaviour. According to RCMP and Bylaw, this is largely because existing public
facilities in Vernon are enclosed and illicit activities are hidden from public view.
RECOMMENDATION(S):
1) Council approve funding for toilet facilities that allow minimal but sufficient
privacy (e.g. walls open at the top and bottom, no locking doors, blue light etc.) in
consultation with RCMP and Bylaw. One example of this type of facility is the
Portland Loo TM, although other designs may exist.
2) The City install public facilities in public space(s) near hotspot locations (in
consultation with RCMP and Bylaw).
3) Council fund new facilities from the 1.9% infrastructure levy.
VI. ISSUE: SHOPPING CARTS
DESCRIPTION: Shopping carts are being abandoned at Bottle Depots, at camp sites, in
parking lots, and various locations. In addition, full carts congregate in parks (most
notably Linear Park) and along streets, where they obstruct pedestrians, obstruct public
use of benches, and add to a sense of urban decay.
DISCUSSION:
1) A company operating in Vernon recovers shopping carts by contract for retail
outlets. However, some large retailers do not use the service.
2) Some large retailers deposit decommissioned carts in such a way as to be
readily available to anyone who wants to take them.
3) Some large retailers have theft protection (e.g. coin locks), others do not at this
time.
4) RCMP and Bylaw are not actively seizing shopping carts when attended by the
user.
5) Recovering abandoned shopping carts is a suboptimal use of protective services'
time.
RECOMMENDATION(S):
1) The City require (by bylaw) retailers to use theft protection
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2) The City require that retailers dispose of decommissioned carts at their own
expense.
3) The City require retailers to recover abandoned carts when identified.
4) Bylaw enforce the above through a fine for (repeated) non-compliance.
5) Council ban commercial shopping carts on public property within the Business
Improvement Area.
VII, ISSUE: GRAFFITI
DESCRIPTION: Graffiti adds to the sense of urban decay, in particular when it is left in
place.
DISCUSSION:
1) Graffiti is built around a subculture whose members derive "power" from
"tagging" buildings etc.
2) Members of the subculture are known to the RCMP and in some cases at least
are also prolific offenders.
3) When graffiti is left in place, it encourages others to "tag" the surrounding area.
4) So far murals have not been tagged.
RECOMMENDATION(S):
1) Proactive graffiti bylaw enforcement (Bylaw) and prosecution (RCMP).
2) Council reinstitute municipal funding for a graffiti remediation program under
Community Policing volunteers.
3) The City require business owners and landlords to report graffiti.
4) In conjunction with recommendation #2 above, the City require Bylaw to
proactively enforce the Good Neighbour Bylaw with respect to graffiti
remediation.
VIII. ISSUE: RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SOCIAL SERVICE PROVIDERS AND
NEIGHBOURING BUSINESSES
DESCRIPTION: Relations between service providers and surrounding businesses and
homes are strained, as identified at the Town Hall as well as in subsequent
correspondence and interviews with stakeholders.
DISCUSSION:
1) Neighbouring business owners have described the negative impacts of the street
entrenched population in the proximity of social service providers.
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2) The area immediately surrounding these locations experiences a high incidence
of drug use, prostitution, rough sleeping, public defecation, and improperly
disposed needles.
3) Relationships between neighbouring businesses and service providers are
further strained by concerns that the original understandings of service provider
operating hours and procedures are not being adhered to. There is fundamental
disagreement between current John Howard Society staff and surrounding
businesses as to the operating procedures originally presented to them when
Gateway Shelter was initiated (See Appendix 3). Six signed statements from
businesses neighbouring the Gateway Shelter were received by the Task Force
following the Town Hall.
RECOMMENDATION(S):
1) Council provide a process to facilitate mediation and to seek a better
understanding of issues impeding the success of businesses and to determine
satisfactory remedies for the concerns being raised by neighbouring businesses.
Furthermore, such a process must also be struck with the responsibility of
identifying what the City can do to further support the agencies that serve the
street population and the homeless in their effort to be good neighbours.
2) The goal of any mediation process must be to ensure safety, good neighbour
relations and to establish a workable solution for all parties. To that end, the Task
Force strongly recommends an independent professionally facilitated mediation
structure with equal representation from the business community and service
providers.