Homeless community will not be the focus of crime crackdown in Vancouver's downtown core: VPD

Officers say an increased presence in Vancouver's downtown core prompted by a rise in crime will not be focused on residents of the area who are experiencing homelessness.

The Vancouver Police Department says it plans to redeploy officers to the area "in response to commercial crime and disorder in the business district."

Those crimes include things like window breaks. VPD says these incidents have gone up 100 per cent downtown between June and mid-September this year compared to last.

The department made a similar move earlier in the pandemic following an increase in property crime when businesses were shuttered.

In a news release Thursday, the VPD said it planned to increase the number of patrols immediately in areas it described as hardest hit: Granville Street and the West End.

Officers will also be in the area on foot and bikes to increase the VPD's general street-level presence.

"We're hearing loud and clear from business owners and residents who don't feel safe and are frustrated by rising crime," Sgt. Steve Addison said in the news release.

He said officers in the area will work directly with those who live or work there to address specific concerns, while at the same time working to identify "chronic offenders" and solve crimes that have already occurred.

"We know that many of these crimes are committed by a small number of career criminals and we're going to make life uncomfortable for them," Addison said.

"We also know there are a lot of people facing homelessness, addiction and mental illness in the downtown core. We want to assure the community that these vulnerable people will not be the focus of our attention."

John Clerides, who owns Marquis Wine Cellars, says the redeployment of VPD officers is a start.

“It’s about time,” he said. “Beat cops are maybe a thing of the past but they certainly did work.”

Clerides is one of many business owners frustrated by what’s happened on Davie Street.

Last week, thieves smashed the front window of his business and stole an e-bike worth about $6,000. He says the criminals, captured on video surveillance, only needed about 20 seconds to get the job done.

He says it’s just one example of what’s been happening in the neighbourhood. He says businesses have seen “storefront break-ins, windows being smashed, jewelry taken, bikes stolen, product taken.”

Mel Smith is a long-time resident who says he’s scared at the changes in the community.

“It’s just become so violent,” Smith said. “There’s so much garbage and trash everywhere.”

“I’m disabled. I don’t feel safe here at night or anytime.”

Ron Moore, who is homeless, says he stays away from crime but knows it’s how others survive.

“When you’re out on the street, you got no food, you got no money, you got no dope. So then you start kicking in windows," he said.

Similar measures were put in place downtown last fall. During that 42-day period, according to police, there were 1,400 calls and 210 weapons seized.

Earlier this year, officers launched another crackdown following a 260 per cent increase in violent shoplifting incidents, which resulted in 130 arrests in about 40 days.

As the latest initiative rolls out, officers are reminding the public that any in-progress incidents or those that put someone's health and safety at risk should be reported to 911.

If there are no safety concerns and the suspect has left the scene of a less serious crime, those incidents can be reported online or through the VPD's non-emergency line.