The Safer Quesnel Plan was completed in 2018 with the help of consultant Randy Churchill, and Tanya Turner, the City of Quesnel’s director of development services, provided an update on the actions that have been taken since then to address nuisance behaviours and properties during the Aug. 27 council meeting.
With relation to resourcing RCMP, council added two RCMP officers to the authorized complement of officers funded in the City.
“With this allowance and the staff sergeant’s diligence at working with RCMP resourcing departments, the City will see the complement of RCMP officers in the community rise in 2019,” Turner noted in her report to council.
City manager Byron Johnson told council the City received the final reconciliation for the RCMP official count for 2018-19 in August, and while the City was authorized for 21 officers, they got 20. He said the projection is 22.5 officers for this coming fiscal year.
When it comes to what happens to people after they have been arrested, Turner says the City and the RCMP are working with the local Crown prosecutors to ensure “appropriate priority and focus” is given to prolific offenders.
Turner told council that a working group of city departments is being put together to review concerns put forth by the City’s Public Safety and Policing Committee, with the goal of identifying and updating tools to address safety and nuisance concerns in the community. As well, specific areas of concern will be reviewed by the group, with discussion about the tools that can be used to deal with the concerns.
Increasing enforcement presence has been a priority, and the City has taken several steps to address that issue.
The City decided to move the full bylaw enforcement office to Spirit Square, based on Churchill’s encouragement to increase the visibility of bylaw enforcement in the community as much as possible. As well, council has increased the number of bylaw enforcement officers to three full-time positions and two seasonal positions.
“Reports from the downtown are that these actions have made an improvement in lessening these [nuisance] activities occurring due in part to the speed with which bylaw officers can deal with nuisance behaviours,” wrote Turner. “This additionally saves RCMP resources from responding to activities that in many cases are resolved or gone by the time they are able to respond.”
Turner told council the RCMP officers are very happy with the relationship they have built with bylaw officers.
Another way the City is increasing enforcement presence is by using private security for special events, according to Turner.
“These have been isolated cases, and typically, the additional security works in isolation or with some limited connections with City resources such as bylaw, RCMP and public works,” she said.
Another new tool the City has brought in has been a “Who Should You Call?” brochure with information about who to call in the event of nuisances, disturbances and criminal activity. These brochures, which also include information about how to deal with panhandling, were provided to downtown businesses over the summer months during bylaw patrols, at which time bylaw officers also identified improvements in the downtown and obtained feedback from businesses about specific areas of concern.
Coun. Mitch Vik, who owns K-Max Games and Videos downtown, was very positive about the brochures.
“I can attest to the ‘Who Should You Call?’ brochure,” he said. “Business owners I talked to and [bylaw supervisor Adelle Wilson] were extremely positive and saw changed behaviour immediately. That was very successful.”
In terms of working with health and social services in the community, the City has been working to continue the Community Caring for Persons with Addictions Roundtable, and new partnerships between Northern Health’s mental health staff, RCMP and bylaw officers have developed, Turner told council.
“This has resulted in co-ordinated patrols to ensure that appropriate services are reaching individuals in crisis, which results in diminished risk of disruptive behaviours and heightened enforcement costs,” she said.
One of Churchill’s recommendations was to utilize the Good Neighbour Agreement Process to address neighbourhood issues and build respectful relationships, and a Good Neighbour Agreement was reached between the Quesnel Shelter and Support Society, the City of Quesnel and the RCMP for the new Elliott Street supportive housing facility.
“As construction of this facility begins in the spring, meetings with these agencies are anticipated to ensure the provisions of the agreement are carried out,” said Turner.
Turner says a Good Neighbour Agreement is also in process for Seasons House and the downtown.
Additionally, the City of Quesnel has supported the United Way and Canadian Mental Health Association in establishing two new positions to support mental health outreach and food security in the community.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is another focus for the City, which provides principles and practices to make places and spaces in the community less susceptible to crime.
“It’s a system of identifying sites and looking at how you can better manipulate sites to reduce crime,” said Turner, noting recommendations often have to do with lighting. “Our bylaw supervisor has training in CPTED and has worked for several years with property owners to target-harden their properties.”
Turner says staff continue to look for resources to have additional training for City staff, business owners and ideally neighbourhood communities to assist in improving knowledge with regard to these concepts.
“Regarding CPTED and the concept of neighbourhood communities, we may want to consider putting more resources to Block Watch and community patrols,” suggested Vik.
The City’s Safer Quesnel Plan is available online under “Major Initiatives” on the City’s website at quesnel.ca, and updates will be provided there.
One of the Safer Quesnel recommendations looks at dealing with “problem properties/behaviours,” and City staff brought forward amendments to the City’s nuisance bylaw at the Aug. 27 meeting that include the amalgamation of the noise bylaw into the nuisance bylaw; the addition of policy on vacant buildings; the addition of policy to restrict lying, sitting or loitering in specified downtown areas from May 1 to Sept. 30; the addition of policy to charge abatement fees for repeat nuisance calls; and the addition of restrictions on panhandling under specific conditions as identified nuisance behaviours.
Council gave first, second and third readings to the nuisance bylaw at the Aug. 27 meeting and adopted the bylaw at its Sept. 3 meeting.
“The significant investment in the downtown is the impetus to make sure people feel comfortable going downtown,” Turner told council at the Aug. 27 meeting. “In terms of the dates, it’s very unlikely we will have people sitting down there in December.”
The proposed changes to the nuisance bylaw include fines of $100 for a first offence, $300 for a second offence and $500 for subsequent offence(s) for actions such as sitting or lying on the street, causing a disturbance, panhandling in a restricted area/way, depositing rubbish, consuming or possessing liquor, and obstructing inspectors.
The bylaw restricts lying, sitting or loitering in specified areas of the city between May 1 and Sept. 30. These areas are the 100 block of Carson, the 100 and 400 blocks of St. Laurent Avenue, the 100 and 400 blocks of Barlow Avenue, and the 200 and 400 blocks of Reid Street.
“The goal of this policy is to minimize behaviours that have been reported to the City as those which discourage community members and tourists from utilizing the revitalized downtown,” Turner wrote in her report to council.
When asked how you can charge somebody who has no money on them, Turner said there are other reasons to take enforcement actions and have a record of enforcement.
“Our main objective is not to obtain money; it’s to change behaviour,” she said.
Case law and the constitution do not favour municipalities taking these steps at this time, said Mayor Bob Simpson, noting there was a rally in Penticton to say panhandling is not a crime, as an example.
“As a council, we have to find the fine line between an individual’s right to safety and people’s rights to being on the street,” he said. “Our job is to try to find a balance between constitutional rights and making sure we have a safe community.
“We tried to find something we can warrant and justify that respects an individual’s right to public space but gives us tools to ensure that public space is safe.”
Coun. Scott Elliott pointed out the panhandling restrictions apply only to certain spaces.
“One of the main things with the panhandling, when you talk to individuals, particularly the elderly, and when they don’t feel safe, we have to do something,” he said.