Downtown Vernon safety focus of workshop

Various agencies gathered Tuesday after some concerns arose about aggressive panhandling.

A co-operative approach is being developed to address public safety issues downtown.

Officials from the Downtown Vernon Association, Partners In Action and the City of Vernon took part in a workshop Tuesday after some concerns arose about aggressive panhandling.

“More discussion needs to happen,” said Mary-Jo O’Keefe, DVA president, when asked about next steps.

“There is a concern among our merchants about the general safety of downtown.”

O’Keefe isn’t sure what the options are, but says one possibility could be the return of private security if a funding source is found.

“We want to reassure people that downtown is vibrant. They are missing out if they don’t  believe downtown is safe,” she said.

Mayor Akbal Mund insists public safety is a priority for the city.

“We are moving forward and will continue to work with the DVA,” he said, adding that it wasn’t a panhandler involved in a recent alleged attack.

“Let’s not label one group as the root of the problem. Most panhandlers are respectful.”

Mund also says the city faces challenges because the Constitution allows people to congregate.

“You can’t just say, ‘Move along.’ We need to find other solutions.”

During the workshop, community policing, the city’s bylaw department and the RCMP provided strategies on how to manage safety concerns.

“It’s important for people to call the police when a crime is in progress. We need the information to respond quickly,” said Sgt. Kara Triance, with the local RCMP detachment.

“The police actively conduct foot patrols. There is a minimum of one daily and one nightly. We are out there.”

Community agencies were also available to make merchants aware of why some individuals are homeless and what resources are available.

“Every community our size has some issues. We’ve got a beautiful, vibrant downtown and I feel comfortable downtown but we don’t want to ignore the concerns,” said Annette Sharkey, with Partners In Action.

Coun. Scott Anderson, who spoke about aggressive panhandling at the Nov. 9 council meeting, was pleased with the discussion Tuesday.

“Council is aware that there is an issue which is a major step forward. Hopefully we can work together to address the issue,” he said.