Amid spike in crime, downtown Victoria businesses plan to hire security team

Businesses in Victoria's trendy downtown shopping district of Lower Johnson Street say there has been a spike in crime there, and they need to hire a security team.

Lili Butterfield owns a boutique clothing store called "Dancing with Lily". She says there's been an increase in shoplifting at her store, and the thieves have become increasingly brazen. She also worries about the safety of her staff.

"As a boss, I want to protect my staff and i think having security would do that," Butterfield said.

She said police often don’t respond in time.

"They definitely don't come down right away if you're not in a threat," she said.

She's not alone in her frustration. The owner of the nearby restaurant Il Terrazzo, Shelley Gudgeon, has already hired a security team. She blames the city for not funding enough police officers.

"We've heard council say small business is the heart and soul of the economy in the city, but we don't – I don't, personally - feel that is being respected by city council."

Victoria's Police chief Del Manak says he understands the business owners' frustrations, and he acknowledges a lack of resources continues to hinder his department's ability to respond to all calls.

"We're looking at everything from scheduling changes to reassignment of priorities, and also which calls perhaps we shouldn't go to," Manak said.

The Downtown Victoria Business Association is meeting Friday with the businesses, to plan hiring a security team. The DVBA's president Jeff Bray also says other options should be considered.

"You know, downtown ambassadors, people who are trained to deal with people on the street and maybe be an intervention for businesses, in maybe a more timely fashion - to deal with some of the lower-level crime."

The city's Mayor Lisa Helps supports that idea and also notes that, unlike past years, the city council is poised to approve the police budget request.

"Part of what the Police Board brought forward were special municipal constables. Those are non-sworn officers who would take the load off the officers working on the front lines."

The business say they need all the help they can get, and worry the cavalry may be coming too late.  

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