New West business and residents groups are alerting the New Westminster police board to a variety of concerns about crime and safety.
At its Nov. 16 meeting, the police board received correspondence on the issue from the Downtown New Westminster Business Improvement Society, the Sapperton Business Association, Kruger Products and Cap’s Bicycle Shop. Representatives from Kruger and the New Westminster Downtown Residents Association also spoke as delegations at the meeting.
Patrick Service, director of human resources at Kruger, said his company has noticed “a bunch of weird stuff happening” around its property. He said Kruger met with a number of businesses to see if they were experiencing the same sort of things and learned they were seeing similar issues.
“This has been a weird year, unlike any we’ve seen,” he said.
In a letter to the board, Kruger GM Mark Evans said the New West plant has seen a “real surge” in unauthorized intruders, fires at its property line, and thefts of catalytic converts and vehicles. He said the company has also experienced “significant delays” in reaching the police department’s non-emergency line.
The Downtown New West BIA also wrote to the board to raise awareness about several concerns it has been hearing from its membership. These include an increase in thefts and vandalism since the beginning of the pandemic, lengthy wait times to get through to the police department via its non-emergency line and limitations with the police department’s online reporting system.
“We have been told that only six to eight officers are on patrol across the entire city on any given shift,” BIA president Karima Jivraj said in a letter to the police board. “Businesses want to see more police presence within our downtown areas during this extremely challenging time, in order to deter crime and increase response time.”
The BIA stated many social issues are contributing to the challenges in downtown New West, including increased homelessness and people regularly sleeping on the streets in front of or adjacent to businesses. The BIA said it recognizes city council is looking to provide extra supports to the downtown to address these issues and is exploring ways to police the city differently, and it would like to be a part of those conversations.
Quentin Vandermerwe, president of the New Westminster Downtown Residents Association, said residents have been bringing some matters to his attention over the last few months regarding policing issues downtown, including people feeling unsafe walking in the neighbourhood. He said Chief Const. Dave Jansen attended the group’s recent meeting and responded to questions from residents.
Residents have also complained about encountering delays getting through to the non-emergency police line, Vandermerwe said.
“People have been telling me that they’ve seen incidents that are not considered emergencies and they call the police and they stay on the line for 20 minutes, 40 minutes, as long as an hour, without getting an answer,” he said. “And that’s not just one person that’s been telling me that, it’s multiple people. I have experienced that myself personally.”
Vandermerwe said that issue could be affecting police statistics, as people just end up hanging up if they don’t get a prompt response.
“That may mean police incidents are getting under reported, and that affects statistics all the way down the line,” he said.
The downtown is not the only neighbourhood experiencing issues, as a longtime business owner and the Sapperton Business Association also sent letters to the board citing concerns about criminal activity.
“It’s affecting our businesses’ survival and the safety of our staff and their patrons’ wellbeing,” wrote Guy Ciprian, managing director of the business association. “We have experienced thefts, attacks on employees, property damage, drug trafficking, drug usage, vandalism, graffiti, feces, homeless people camping in doorways, etc., etc.”
Ciprian said Sapperton businesses have also experienced lengthy waits to get through to the NWPD’s non-emergency line or 911 – sometimes waiting 90 to 120 minutes on the non-emergency line.
“What we need is a direct line to police service and better police presence in our area,” he wrote. “Our small businesses are not equipped or encouraged to deal with these situations themselves; it is not safe to do so. We understand that the city is looking to provide extra supports to our businesses, however it is not soon enough. If we don’t help these businesses soon, they will disappear entirely.”
Gordon Hobbis, owner of Cap’s Bicycle Shop, said it’s a daily occurrence to witness public urination and defection in his store’s parking lot. He said customers have been harassed, thefts have occurred and he’s been attacked by people with knives and pepper spray more than once.
Hobbis said its time for the city’s elected official to stand up and find a solution that makes Sapperton a safe and attractive area for shopping and socializing.
“Our government is obligated to represent the citizen and business people of New Westminster, along with those experiencing homelessness and addiction,” he wrote.
In his letter to the board, Hobbis made several suggestions, including the establishment of a help line that businesses can call to get prompt support for people in distress, rather than having police respond to mental health issues.
What’s happening with E-Comm?
At the Nov. 16 board meeting, E-Comm representatives made a presentation about 911 answering and delays. They said a number of efforts have been implemented in partnership with BC Emergency Health Services, including the establishment of a priority queue for urgent calls.
According to E-Comm representatives, a number of other initiatives are in progress or are being evaluated.
During his presentation to the board, Vandermerwe said there are times when people want to use more modern methods to connect to the police, such as text messaging. He suggested there may also be a need for more education about the most appropriate ways for contacting the police.
Chief Const. Dave Jansen said the police department has been working with E-Comm to discuss some different options and ideas, and that work will continue.
Jansen said the police department is also working with New Westminster City Hall about highlighting alternatives to calling 911 or the NWPD’s non-emergency number, such as calling the bylaws department about issues such as traffic or homelessness.
“We will continue on working with our partners at E-Comm and the city,” he said. “We are also working on several different things specific to the downtown, but I think that they will be applicable across the entire city.”
Mayor Jonathan Cote, who chairs the police board, said a few communities are facing challenges with their non-emergency lines, and suggested the police department report back to the board on the issue about efforts being taken to address those concerns through a variety of initiatives.
“When it’s failing, we do need to take a good hard look at that,” he said.
Aside from issues related to delays in getting through to the non-emergency number, Cote said a variety of initiatives are being undertaken by the police department and the city to address concerns raised about the impacts that some of the social issues are having on the city. He said the information presented to the police board highlights “some of the challenges and stresses” the city is trying to address.
Statistically, Jansen said the police department hasn’t seen a spike in crime in the city. However, he said there has been a spike in crime at Kruger.
“We are making an effort to look at different things we can do differently in regards to supporting them and other partners in the downtown,” he said. “As you know, we continue to work with the city. I think that’s our best approach in regards to a lot of these issues.”