The business cost of crime and public safety: A CTV News analysis
Since the start of the pandemic, Vancouver has been dealing with stranger assaults, violent break-and-enters, graffiti, broken windows, arson, and general street disorder, and many businesses have been – and continue to be – the targets.
With the focus now turning to pandemic recovery, many in the business community say ongoing crime and public safety issues are holding them back. So what is the financial cost?
CTV News conducted an analysis of budgets from all 22 Business Improvement Associations in the City of Vancouver. These organizations are funded by local businesses to promote and stimulate the local economy.
For the upcoming 2022-2023 financial year, the total BIA spend under the category of “Community Safety” will be $3,814,952. This is up from $3,030,687 in the pre-pandemic 2019-2020 fiscal year, an increase of more than 25 per cent.
The biggest BIA, Downtown Vancouver, is forecasting revenue of $6,379,189 this year, with a community safety budget of $1,627,351, an increase of more than $300,000 from 2019.
DVBIA president Nolan Marshall said public safety is the “biggest concern” retailers have in downtown Vancouver right now, and explained what the community safety budget is being spent on.
“Graffiti removal, our public safety ambassador team, we added bike patrols over the last 18 months as well, overnight patrols,” Marshall said. “When we have to spend more on public safety, it comes from a shift in other programming that we would otherwise be able to use to attract people to downtown.”
Chinatown BIA has seen the biggest percentage growth in community safety spending. The allocation pre-pandemic was $116,250. It’s now at $200,000, almost half the entire budget.
Chinatown BIA president Jordan Eng said the money pays for private security to conduct “daily patrols for 20 hours a day,” dealing with “social disorder, broken glass, break-ins and so on.”
And that figure does not include graffiti removal. According to the Chinatown BIA budget, $33,000 a year is allocated for graffiti removal, but Eng said with additional funding from the City of Vancouver, the real figure is “more than $60,000” annually.
Eng also echoed Marshall’s comments about the increased security costs taking away from the core responsibility of a BIA.
“We’re supposed to be focussing on promotion, beautification, bringing people into the neighborhood, festivals – you know, exciting, fun stuff,” Eng said. “And here we are keeping the status quo with spending half of our money on security and cleanup.”
The issues are similar across almost all areas of Vancouver. In 2019, Cambie Village dedicated just $4,500 to community safety. This year, it will spend $60,000 – an increase of more than 1,300 per cent.
Commercial Drive’s spend on safety patrols has more than doubled from $30,500 in 2019 to $82,000 this coming year, Yaletown’s bill for private security is going from $92,585 in 2019 to $130,000 this year, and Kitsilano-West-4th is also increasing its investment in “safety and security” from $40,000 in 2019 to $70,000 this year.
BUSINESSES FEELING THE BRUNT
Ryan Diaz is the owner of DCS, a martial arts and conditioning studio in Chinatown. He’s also in the process of opening another gym and yoga studio across the road. On Wednesday morning, Diaz received a phone call that his new studio had been broken into. Thieves came in through a back door and stole a brand new TV, speakers, all his contractors’ tools and some dumbbells.
“It was a tough time though, I wanted to cry,” Diaz said, estimating about $10,000 worth of equipment had gone.
“It takes a lot of work to buy that stuff.”
Tracey To works at Forum Home Appliances next door. Her father opened the store 34 years ago and she’s worked there full time for 25 years.
“We’ve been robbed with someone coming in with bear spray, we’ve had female staffers attacked walking along the street, waiting at the bus stop, we’ve had fires around our building,” she said.
To said more needs to be done, and soon.
“There’s so many businesses in Chinatown that if you don’t provide help now, they’re not going to be able to survive,” she said. “Their hearts are broken from what’s going on in Chinatown.”
Last week, Vancouver City Council held a special meeting on public safety. Officials from both the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade and Destination Vancouver told city officials that Vancouver was at risk of losing its international reputation as a safe city.
The meeting was set up to hear directly from members of the public. Sixty-one people signed up to speak, but there was only time for seven. The meeting will reconvene Tuesday, and BIA members tell CTV News they’re on the list to speak.
Back in January, Mayor Kennedy Stewart was asked about his thoughts on public safety after the Vancouver Police Department released video of another unprovoked attack in the city.
"I do think Vancouver is safe, it's one of the safest cities in the world," Stewart told reporters.
And on Thursday, the province unveiled its plan to address repeat property offenders.
Attorney General David Eby said the province has hired two experts to investigate the issues and report back in 120 days.
Marshall said the response from both levels of government is underwhelming and “completely lacking the urgency required for the situation.”