Business safety forum shines light on enforcement challenges

Creating a private Facebook Page, efforts at community building and looking into the use of crime prevention mobile apps are some of the next steps the Sechelt Downtown Business Association (SDBA) has planned following a Nov. 19 forum on crime prevention and safety.

The association invited representatives from a number of service providers on the Sunshine Coast – including Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), RCMP, RainCity Housing and Arrowhead Clubhouse – to speak with Sechelt business owners to find “solutions that will better protect businesses, create a safe downtown as well as ensuring we continue to support those people in need,” according to the SDBA.

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After the forum, SDBA executive director Theressa Logan told Coast Reporter that it highlighted the need for engagement.

“The panel and the businesses talked about engaging more with those living in supportive housing, shelters and on the streets to create a greater sense of community and community pride with the hopes that this will deter theft, vandalism and loitering on private property,” Logan said in an email.

The group also plans to engage with Community Action Team peer groups – people who have experience with homelessness, mental health issues and substance use – “to identify needs and challenges.”

In addition, the association plans to set up a private Facebook Page “to help businesses monitor the goings-on of the downtown and share information as needed to help the RCMP, business owners, and the community with any criminal activity that is taking place.” It will also look at crime prevention mobile apps such as EG Lightcatch, meant to make it easier for the public to supply information to law enforcement.

Logan said the group also discussed the importance of showing “compassion and understanding to those who suffer from mental health and addiction,” something echoed by SDBA president Paul Legge.

“I am really encouraged by the compassion and the willingness to come together as a community that arose from the forum,” he told Coast Reporter. “It is extremely important to create dialogue on the topic and carry on these conversations outside of the forum.”

Statistics and enforcement challenges, as well as the need for health care and housing services, were among topics raised by the panellists at the forum.

Between July 1 and Nov. 19 there were 36 commercial break-and-enters reported on the Sunshine Coast, 27 of which occurred in the District of Sechelt, according to RCMP Staff Sgt. Poppy Hallam. “That was a really big spike,” she told the audience.

Police are working with people to collect surveillance footage to help move investigations forward, and are looking at introducing a community safety coordinator, Hallam said.

Isaac Malmgren, associate director for RainCity Housing, raised the issue of housing scarcity, telling businesses owners there has “absolutely been a drastic change” over the four years the society has operated on the Sunshine Coast.

Others outlined changes in substance use, including the rise in crystal meth. When describing addiction services, Susann Richter who manages those services for VCH, said the opiate replacement clinic, which serves about 120 people, “has become an ever-increasing service.” She noted that a “spectrum” of drugs are associated with addictions, including alcohol, and said there is “a gap in services” because there’s no detox unit on the Sunshine Coast.

Despite the challenges, panellists emphasized the comparatively strong network of services available.

Malgmem said, based on his experience working throughout the Lower Mainland, “the way that service providers and community members here in Sechelt as well as in Gibsons have really quickly rallied to try to increase the resources that are needed for people who are homeless or precariously housed … actually gives me hope that there’s a chance we can meet the need in this community.”

Richter also said new housing services offered on the Coast have led to some “great outcomes for clients,” since it allows for more consistent outreach.

Business owners also had a chance to ask questions.

One rental property owner in the downtown core expressed concern over the lag time for non-emergency RCMP calls. “Half the time we call you guys, we don’t get a response or you guys don’t answer after 30 minutes of waiting on the line. It’s almost daily, but we don’t report it anymore because there’s no point.”

He asked if the RCMP could provide more foot patrols.

Hallam acknowledged that response time was a problem in part due to the E-Comm 911 answering service in the province, which has been struggling with delays. “If it’s not an emergency, it’s not getting an answer until somebody’s available,” she said.

She stressed that 911 isn’t just for emergencies or crimes in progress, but should also be used if there are suspicious circumstances. “If you believe a crime is about to happen … that is a 911 call,” she said. “They will tell you if it’s not and they will put you on hold, unfortunately.”

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