The City of Quesnel has committed to making its residents feel safer.
Although statistics can be misleading, Quesnel’s crime rate has seen an uptick year-over-year, and the anecdotal evidence people read about on online forums and hear from their neighbours has many worried.
While the city is nowhere near as dangerous as national magazines have ranked it, action to curtail crime has been necessary.
In late 2018, the City of Quesnel contracted Randy Churchill to help complete a Safer Community Plan, with the goal of producing a number of recommendations to reduce crime and disorder within city limits.
Churchill was an RCMP officer for 30 years and followed that up as bylaw manager for the City of Nanaimo.
He says the problems inherited when he started the job in the island city were dire.
“They had a lot of issues with the street-entrenched population,” he notes. “There were two to three hundred people [living on the street] at any point in time, and the business community had a lot of concerns.”
Over the course of a few years, he teamed up with RCMP, Social Services and Health Services to form a working group to address the issue as a whole.
Things did not change overnight, but their Safer Downtown initiative grew into a Safer Nanaimo initiative, and before they knew it, other municipalities were contacting them to help out with similar issues.
Churchill says he has seen cities in much worse circumstances than Quesnel.
“I see you’re at the tipping point,” he says.
“You’re at the beginning of having more concerns, where it’s obvious that you need to get organized, and you need to start working together.”
But the good news is, he adds, it is happening.
The consultant prepared a report for the City, which was presented before council on March 5.
Within the report, he calls for the City’s own Safer Working Group made up of key stakeholders like the ones he teamed up with in Nanaimo.
Churchill also echoes the public’s cries for more enforcement presence. Quesnel is working on creating a satellite Spirit Square storefront to increase the visibility of bylaw enforcement and RCMP.
The City has also budgeted for adding two additional RCMP officers to the authorized complement.
A Who Do You Call brochure is also in the works. All too often, the police are called to situations that need not involve them, which takes up resources that can be put to better use elsewhere.
Many issues can be handled by bylaw officers or other City staff.
“You’ve got one tool that you use,” says Churchill. “Everyone phones the RCMP, and a lot of that comes down to they don’t know who else to call because the RCMP has always been there.
“A large percentage of the calls they get aren’t necessarily a criminal or policing matter, and they’ve got to weed through and filter them.
“Where, with a clear understanding of who to call, you cut through the ping-ponging process.
“Whoever you call is expecting the call and knows their role in solving [your issue].”
The importance of Health and Social Services was also emphasized in the report.
Churchill says the City is on the right track with its Community Caring for Persons with Addictions roundtable (CCPA) and is impressed that a Good Neighbour Agreement is being utilized to address neighbourhood issues.
“The Community Caring part that you guys have got is light years ahead of most communities that I see,” he says.
Additionally, the City has agreed to support the United Way and Canada Mental Health Association to establish two positions that will support mental health outreach and food security within its limits.
Churchill says Crime Prevention through Environmental Design is also an important factor in making a community safer.
This can mean anything from clearing out bush to provide better sight lines, to ensuring proper lighting is prevalent throughout the city, and clearly marking the boundaries between public and private property.
While a lot of buildings and City properties were not built with this in mind, older properties can be remediated.
Dealing with other problem properties needs to be a priority too, according to the report.
Currently, Quesnel is in the process of updating current bylaws and policies to deal with upkeep and minimum standards of rental properties, and that will be brought forward in April.
This will hopefully raise the standard of living in problem neighbourhoods and draw attention to properties that support crime or disorder.
Lastly, the report suggest the City continue to lobby the Crown Counsel to secure the staff resources necessary to prosecute offences committed by chronic and prolific criminals.
“You need to look at the sentencing of those people, as one person can commit 60 offences in one month, or shorter,” says Churchill. “We know [the courts] are hard to get to the table, as they have too many files and are trying to get through day-by-day, but we must continue to exert pressure on them to help us out.”
With a little more effort towards ownership of the street, Churchill says, the City can hopefully lessen the burden of the courts.
This does not mean forcefully removing everyone from the street by any means, but gaining a good understanding of who is there and why they are there.
“You need your bylaw and your RCMP staff trained to understand that they’re not there to push people to nothing,” says Churchill. “They’re there to identify who that person is, [find out] if they’re new to the street and figure out what do they need to help them.
“So your street presence is important because then you get to know who everyone is, and you can figure out who is causing the crime. When you don’t have that street presence and you don’t deal with that, it can get worse and worse, and that’s when you get closer to the tipping point because you’re not engaging it.”
The consultant thinks Quesnel has a bright future if it can continue down its current path in the fight against crime and disorder.
“You’ve got an alive mayor, you’ve got an alive council, and they’re already connecting on all those issues that we fought years for,” he says. “To get to that stage where you’re addressing disorder takes a lot of work, and you guys are way down that continuum right now.
“You’re really doing a lot that I don’t see in other communities, so that makes it a nice place to be.”