Domestic violence appears to be on the rise in New Westminster amid the COVID-19 crisis.
On Monday, city council endorsed a recommendation from a business and working economy group that’s been established in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The recommendation would allow the city to prioritize and prepare a commercial area security plan that could include a combination of increased police patrols, hiring of private security (with cost-share potential) and redeployment of city staff to conduct walking, biking and vehicle patrols.
Coun. Nadine Nakagawa said she knows that businesses are worried and are under stress, but she wants resources to be put towards keeping people safe. She said others cities have reported a decrease in calls around property issues and an increase in calls related to domestic violence.
“I’ve heard that Battered Women’s Support Services is completely overwhelmed. That is deeply troubling that people are isolated and in danger,” she said. “I suppose if we are considering additional resources, I would far prefer that we are putting additional resources towards protecting people who are at-risk, not in terms of private security, obviously, but in terms of deploying resources and in protecting.”
Acting Chief Const. Dave Jansen told council the New Westminster Police Department has looked at its statistics for a time period that started on March 13 and compared it to the same time period last year.
“We have seen about a 5% increase in our domestic disputes files,” he said.
While it’s a very small window of time that’s been compared, Jansen said domestic violence is something the police department is focusing on as part of its COVID-19 response
“We have seen an increase in our business break and enters also, for that same time period,” he added. “We are going to be redeploying some of our resources.”
To provide some additional coverage and capacity on that front, Jansen said the police department’s domestic violence detective and its special investigation (power-based crimes) detective are now part of its major crime unit.
“This has allowed us to create two teams providing greater coverage and capacity to address all major crimes, but in this case specifically domestic violence-power-based crimes,” he said in an email to the Record.
Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women Support Services, has written to the federal and provincial governments seeking additional funding support to assist women and women-serving organizations in B.C., and specifically in Metro Vancouver. In a March 16 press release, she said the COVID-19 pandemic poses specific challenges for women.
“Our work involves a number of components, especially to bring women together to help alleviate isolation, be safe, and survive,” she wrote. “Relationships and engagement are vital aspects of safety and security and as such, many women rely on accessing our facilities daily for their basic needs. … As front-line organizations, we too, are first responders: we are keeping women alive, and we cannot cease service delivery.”
Mayor Jonathan Cote, who chairs the New Westminster Police Board, agreed the issue of domestic violence is an area of concern.
“We obviously want to be addressing all these trends that might be coming forward here but we have to prioritize the ones that are actually affecting people the most and more harm can be done,” he said.
Nakagawa urged the police department to let council know if there are opportunities to support initiatives addressing domestic violence.
Coun. Mary Trentadue questioned what the commercial area security plan is for and if it’s required at this time.
Blair Fryer, the city’s manager of economic development and communications, said the issue was raised at last week’s meeting of the business and working economy working group, in response to reports of increased vandalism in Vancouver with fewer people in commercial areas.
“The working group has put forward a need for action, sort of a more eyes on the street,” he said.
Fryer said New Westminster hasn’t seen a marked increase in vandalism at this time, but the police department is stepping up patrols and engaging its crime-reduction unit, which includes bike patrols and foot patrols. He said the working group hasn’t delved into details about potential cost-sharing initiatives for security with local business organizations.
“We will have to look at what that cost-sharing could look like when we come back to council before we make any commitment,” he said.