New public safety measures coming after Yaletown residents express concerns: VPD
VANCOUVER -- After receiving "an overwhelming number of messages" from Yaletown residents expressing safety concerns, police in Vancouver say new measures will be implemented in the community.
Vancouver Police Department spokesperson Const. Tania Visintin said Friday that VPD has received numerous messages and emails from people saying they feel unsafe in Yaletown, adding, “we also don’t tolerate residents feeling unsafe.”
VPD will deploy more officers on bikes to allow for easier access to lanes and parking lots and be more accessible to residents. Officers already deployed downtown will also increase patrols of the Yaletown area.
Few people in the neighbourhood have called 911, however.
"We do ask people to call police if they do have concerns or if they're feeling unsafe so we can track these calls," Visintin said.
For months, Yaletown residents have raised concerns about safety, citing issues like discarded needles in parks, open drug use, human feces on the ground and bear bangers going off in the early hours of the morning.
Resident Luke Baxter takes his 2-year-old daughter to Emery Barnes park every day, but says he needs to keep a very close eye on her.
“(She’s) been very close to needles more than once, but I’ve got her before she’s grabbed them, so I’ve been lucky,” Baxter said.
He says when he started calling police a month ago to report incidents, an officer told him to move to another area.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people who had been living in Oppenheimer Park were moved into empty hotels in the downtown core, including the Howard Johnson on Granville Street.
An email sent from a VPD staff sergeant obtained by CTV News says the department "was not consulted on this development," adding that the department is "now scrambling to keep up."
Miles Mitchinson lives in the building behind the Howard Johnson.
“I’ve lived downtown for the past 10 years,” he said. “I know what it’s like to live in a big city. I know there’s lots of noise. This is a different level. It’s gotten to the point of being dangerous.”
Mitchinson has seen more police in the area in the past week, but doesn’t think it’s a solution.
“This is the result of decades of failed policies at a city and provincial level that have led to a crisis of addiction and mental health issues and VPD presence is not something that’ll crack down on that,” he said.
On Friday, former Vancouver Mayor and long time Yaletown resident Sam Sullivan voiced his criticism of how the moves have been handled, saying the current state of the area is “worse than it’s ever been.”
He said he’s heard from hundreds of residents who are concerned about safety.
“We have a very diverse population here and when you get this kind of response from residents, you know something is wrong,” Sullivan said. “We have real struggles happening in this neighborhood.”
Residents have also voiced concern for being kept in the dark about plans to turn downtown hotels into housing. Next week, BC Housing will be hosting its first online dialogue session with residents for them to ask questions.
Both Sullivan and Mitchinson say it comes too late.
“We’ve already had online dialogue sessions with each other,” Mitchinson said. “I don’t know what they can add to it, unless they’re going to unveil new long-term support for these people that need assistance.”