Policing is a big part of the story when it comes to dealing with social issues downtown.
Prince George RCMP Superintendent Shaun Wright told a crowd of about 150 people gathered to discuss downtown issues that the police do focus on downtown and are doing what they can.
The Downtown Safety Unit is comprised of five full time members. They deal with a specific area and deal with what the RCMP call “crimes of disorder,” and other crimes.
“That’s their full time job, they work nine-hour shifts, typically five days a week,” said Wright. “That doesn’t give 24-hour coverage.”
Wright has also assigned 20 per cent of patrol resources to the downtown area as well, giving the area 24-hour coverage, said Wright. The RCMP has also added some overtime patrols downtown to increase the police presence in the area, particularly when income assistance cheques arrive.
“The counter-balance to that is those resources are pulled from other calls and other parts of the city,” he said. “That has been a bit of strain for us, but has given us a better presence downtown.”
He mental health issues are one of the biggest causal factors for issues downtown. The RCMP partner with Northern Health on various programs, including the Car 60 program which sees RCMP partner with a mental health practitioner to respond to calls of people experience a mental health crisis.
The Downtown Safety Unit also works with the Northern Health outreach teams.
He added that Prince George is a hub city for the North and that means it attracts, for various reasons, people from the outlying areas.
“This is where most of the resources are,” he said. “We’re dealing with a regional problem. We deal with regional offenders who come here for a variety of reasons whether its to seek resources for treatment, whether they were remanded in custody and released and chose not to return to their community, or whether they were relocated here because of the wildfires. We are dealing with the criminal element and the disenfranchised element from numerous surrounding communities and not just Prince George. That really puts a strain on the resources here.”
However, that didn’t assuage Jacqueline Marion Special Beauty Parlor and Day Spa, located just down the street from the needle exchange.
“We need more police downtown,” she said. “We used to have Community Policing right downtown, it made a difference. I can phone the police right now and I get put on hold for half-an-hour and police don’t show up for three hours. That unacceptable. We need to take care of our city.”
Lheidli T’enneh elder Violet Bozoki, through Kyla Turner of Positive Living North, also had a message for Wright … that being the officers should get out of their cars more when patrolling downtown.