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Downtown Vernon security patrols parked

Three-year program cost about $120,000 and generated less than 35 calls for service
Bylaw officers deal with a homeless woman asking for help in downtown Vernon Saturday, Nov. 12. (Jennifer Smith - Morning Star)

Will Pearce’s best advice to council on downtown safety? Put money toward RCMP and bylaw.

Vernon’s chief administrative officer recommended to council at its regular meeting Monday, Nov. 14, that if the city didn’t wish to continue with seasonal overnight security in the downtown core, money would be better spent going toward adding additional RCMP and bylaw compliance officers.

Overnight seasonal security downtown was recommended by the Activate Safety Task Force, and was implemented at the beginning of 2020. The security was endorsed by council during budget deliberations and the original two-year contract was extended into a third year, which ended in 2022.

In the three years, council spent close to $120,000 on the contract. There were 32 calls for service reported over the duration of the contract.

“Administration does not believe this is the best investment,” said Pearce. “Administration believes RCMP and bylaw is the best investment.”

Coun. Teresa Durning said the report on the seasonal security given to council did not show a lot of calls for service or activity.

“With all the issues we’re facing downtown, is this (contract) the best bang for our buck?” asked Durning.

The mobile security service operated seven days a week from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. between May 1 and Sept. 30. The marked security vehicle maintained a visible presence during the overnight hours with a primary duty to observe, record, and report occurrences within the downtown core business improvement areas.

In his report to council, city manager of protective services Darren Lees said in many cases, individuals were not in contravention of a municipal bylaw or provincial law but were noted by the security officer.

Patrol report details consisted of patrol date, name of security officer, time, nearest address and relevant details (who, what, when, where) for each observation or call for service. The officer also recorded if the observation or call for service was east or west of Highway 97 and whether it was on private or city property.

“Where calls for service were initiated regarding suspicious, illegal or unsafe activities, the security officer also noted the agency called to respond,” said Lees. “Patrol reports were submitted by the contractor to Protective Services each week for evaluation and reporting.”

There were 1,069 recorded observations by security between May 1 and Sept. 30, 2022, with all observations involving street individuals.

Slightly more than half (50.1 per cent) of the observations were made on city street, lanes, downtown parks, the city bus exchange and public washrooms, and the other 49.9 per cent were made on private property with individuals observed in private alcoves, doorways and private parking areas.

More than half of the security observations (52 per cent) occurred in the Business Improvement Area, and the other 48 per cent were in the BIA secondary area.

The RCMP received one call for service while seven calls were reported to Vernon Fire Rescue Services, all of which were warming fires started by homeless individuals.

Lees said the Downtown Vernon Association was contacted for comment about the seasonal security.

“The executive director advised that the DVA had not received any direct feedback on overnight security operations,” said Lees.

Council voted unanimously to receive Lees’ report for information, and did not renew the contract.

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Roger Knox

About the Author: Roger Knox

I am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started my career in radio and have spent the last 21 years working with Black Press Media.
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