One year ago Campbell River decided it was time to step up and work to make their downtown safer for everyone, …and it looks like their plan is working.
Like just about every community around the province Campbell River had a serious problem with unacceptable behaviour on the streets in and around their downtown. The problem was “tangible” says Ron Neufeld, Campbell River deputy city manager.
“The local business community lobbied council,” Neufeld said. “They wanted something done to start managing behaviour on the streets. It was getting harder and harder for people to feel safe downtown.”
While it is still a work in progress, Neufeld said they are beginning to see results.
“The feedback from the business community is that they are beginning to see a difference; that they are seeing sustained change,” Neufeld said.
Campbell River hired community consultant Randy Churchill to help the city put together an action plan. Churchill recently put together a similar plan paid for jointly by North Cowichan and Duncan.
Neufeld said a tremendous amount of contact and interviewing took place in the community, involving business operators, city staff, social support agencies and the RCMP.
“It became clear very quickly that it wasn’t an either/or situation in which you had to focus either on the enforcement component or the social support component,” Neufeld said.
What Campbell River is rolling out is multi-faceted.
The city leased office space downtown and moved bylaw enforcement staff to that office, and hired an additional bylaw officer.
They changed their previous policy of enforcing bylaws on a complaint basis to proactively hitting the streets to nip bylaw infractions in the bud by doing street patrols with a focus on building relationships.
The office space is large enough to include room for parking enforcement staff and operating space for the city’s security contractor. The RCMP make use of the space and store their bicycles there for their own street patrols.
“The bylaw officers now do street patrols after training by the RCMP, sometimes using the police bikes,” Neufeld said, “and are getting to know the street people on a first name basis.”
Neufeld said this activity is backed up by a technical group of staff from the city that meets monthly to bring municipal horsepower to bear on problems as they arise. This group has representation from virtually every department in the local government. Social support agencies have been involved from the outset.
“Instead of having to go to council with a request for additional resources to deal with a problem, we can often deal with situations within existing resources,” Neufeld said.
None of this would have happened without the political will of city council to get this done, Neufeld said.
“The underlying and common theme is having an interest in making things better for everyone,” Neufeld said.
The approach has been, he said, and continues to be, collaborative. “We’re working to make sure no one is being left out in resolving this situation.”
Patrick Hrushowy is a 45 year veteran of journalism, communications consulting, and business background, who just can’t stop writing.