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Vernon to consider hiring private security to patrol downtown

FILE PHOTO: March 22, 2018.
June 25, 2019 - 6:30 PM

VERNON - The City of Vernon is toying with all sorts of ideas to improve safety on city streets.

One idea of putting private security guards on the city's streets another is to allow graffiti artists to paint murals to deter tagging. There's also a five cent needle buy-back scheme and a plan to force businesses to lock their garbage bins proposed in the ongoing effort to address antisocial behaviour in the downtown core.

Council voted unanimously for the motion asking staff to review the cost of employing seasonal private security to work nights at hot spots around the city identified as prone to petty crime.

The motion put forward by Coun. Scott Anderson was followed by Coun. Kari Gares motion reintroducing several recommendations from last years Activate Safety Task Force. Gares said readdressing the task force's recommendations was a worthwhile exercise.

"I would say in some areas we really haven't seen that much improvement, and we have to ask ourselves the question why? Was it due to an ineffective policy or program," Gares said.

According to a city report, 21 per cent of RCMP files and 36 per cent of bylaw files in 2018 were related to the street entrenched population and drug use.

Coun. Gares told if the city does move forward with seasonal security the money to fund the program would hopefully be available from last year's surplus. With the staff report on the initiative not due to be back before council until mid-August, Gares admitted the plan may be too late to put into motion this year.

If the city does employ private security it would be following in the footsteps of Kelowna and West Kelowna who spent $150,000 on private security patrols last year.

Coun. Gares also put forward a recommendation to create a program that brings graffiti artists together with business owners to allow them to paint street art in their buildings. The councillor said research from large urban centres has shown this can deter tagging and actually reduce graffiti. 

While Gares wasn't sure how much traction this idea would get, she said it was a way of thinking about things "from a very outside the box perspective."

Gares also asked for a dedicated seasonal bylaw bike team, a recommendation that was not acted on in 2018. Added to list for staff to look into is the viability of a clean-up team working between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. every day, and whether to mandate business owners to lock their garbage bins.

A much discussed but never initiated needle exchange program was also brought back to the table. While a needle buy-back program was widely discussed in 2018 and implemented in Kamloops and Penticton - as well as a grass roots program in downtown Vernon from the back of their minivan - no official buyback program ever came into fruition.

The recommendations come at the same time council quietly received the final report from CTQ Consulting summarizing the June 4 town hall meeting where the public voiced their concerns surrounding the situation in the downtown core.

"Public consultation is good for the shake of public consultation, regardless of whether good ideas come out of it, the meeting was a success," Coun. Anderson said.

Coun. Anderson also put forward that two garbage bins be placed on city property behind the Canadian Wholesale Club on 28 Ave and 33 street near the Gateway Shelter.

Along with the recommendation Coun. Gares also said in her report, the city should look at forcing the demolition of the old Legion building at the cost of the owner of the building, as a means to deal with the immediate problems of crime, vagrancy, open drug use and prostitution.

"Cleaning up our streets also means cleaning up the problem areas that exacerbates the problem," she said in the report.

City staff is due to report back to council in September regarding the recommendations.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 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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