Private security is adding to the cost of doing business in Vernon | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Private security is adding to the cost of doing business in Vernon

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November 28, 2018 - 11:02 AM

VERNON - Ed Kendall had hoped to retire with his business on 33 Street in Vernon. The manager and co-owner of Enlighten Hair and Tanning Salon said the business had occupied the same spot for years. But he claims that due to high levels of crime and transients in his neighbourhood affecting customer turnout, he had to move his business to 35 Street last September.

"We were forced to move," he said. "We're tired of cleaning up the messes every morning."

Kendall, like many Vernonites, has watched the homeless population balloon in his community over the past few years. He's found the constant cleanup of trash from his building's stoop to be a drain of time and resources. He's seen the violence involved with transients up close; he was nearly stabbed earlier this year. But before leaving for his new site, Kendall says he found some relief in the form of private security who patrol the area when he can't.

He knows it works. The question is who should pay for it? Is private security an added business tax or is this a community problem?

Some cities like Kelowna and West Kelowna pay for private security to monitor certain areas — often commercial areas — but Vernon doesn't offer such funds, leaving business owners to foot the bill to protect their stores.

Robert Steffen is the owner and operator of Robin Hood Security in Vernon. Earlier this year, downtown business owners began approaching him for overnight security for their stores, he says.

"It was like a chain of events," he said. "One [business] approached us and it went from there."

Steffen claims that currently 25-30 businesses in Vernon employ Robin Hood for nighttime security. Uniformed workers patrol stores from around 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. They clean up storefronts and try to prevent people from camping outside of businesses.

Steffen said security costs $5 per night which, if used every day of the year, could cost a business upwards of $2,000.

Larry Fisher, the owner of Fisher's Home Hardware, hires private security for his store. He's noticed a need for security among his fellow business owners.

"Neighbouring businesses use security out of need," he said. "[It gives] peace of mind."

Fisher thinks the uniformed workers provide a solid form of protection from potentially-aggressive people, which keeps his employees away from risky situations.

"It's a buffer between [troublemakers] and the owner and staff," he said.

Unlike Kelowna, which spent $150,000 on specialized private street patrols from Paladin Security this year, the City of Vernon does not offer funding for businesses to hire security. Paladin does perform car patrols in Vernon, but no dedicated foot patrols. Increasingly, municipalities are looking for alternatives because even if they want to pay for more police officers — at a cost of roughly $170,000 per year, per officer — the RCMP cannot meet the demand.

Owners can't be at their store all day and night. If there's trouble during the evening, it might not be reported for hours. Private security can also fill that gap, but the trade-off is a higher cost of doing business.

Fisher says the city should be helping businesses cover some of the costs of security.

"We pay high property taxes," he said. "[Security] should be a service the city provides. [It's] a major issue."

Fisher says the city isn't giving corporate citizens enough consideration in the ongoing discussion on how to curb the problems related to homelessness.

"The city should step up," he said.

While Kendall ultimately had to move to a new location, he was satisfied with the security at his old building. He no longer feels the need to pay for the service in his new area. He wants the city to find a solution to the growing homeless problem.

"It's not just downtown; it's all over," he said. "[The city] is turning a blind eye. We need the city to step up and do their fair share."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Sean Mott or call (250) 864-7494 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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