Prince George will see four more dedicated bylaw officers as well as the establishment of a downtown public safety office.
At last night’s (Jan. 11) public meeting, city council approved the transfer of a $400,000 annual budget that had been utilized for private security costs to bylaw services for the purpose of hiring four new officers.
The intent is to increase the bylaw enforcement officer coverage in the downtown and surrounding area from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven says a week with the bylaw officers permanently deployed from the downtown public safety office, which will open at Second Avenue and George Street.
“The idea is that those four officers would have more of a boots on the ground approach […] with the officers walking predetermined routes and this would provide a model that would allow bylaw services to continue to work closely not only with other agencies but also the downtown businesses as well,” said Acting City Manager Walter Babicz.
This recommendation came from feedback from the Select Committee on a Safe, Clean, and Inclusive community and the $400,000 was initially budgeted during the Safe Clean and Inclusive Service Enhancement package approved during last year's budget debates.
“All we are asking is those funds to be used for a different purpose, so it’s not an increase but rather a reallocation from one division to another,” said Babicz, who requested council’s approval ahead of the Jan. 25 budget discussions so city staff could get working on the hiring process.
He said the vision is that these enforcement officers would work, and be present, in the downtown public safety office with an integrated approach with social service agencies, Northern Health and the RCMP.
Babicz said the city is hoping to have the downtown public safety office opened between March and April this year, but the hiring of the new bylaw officers would begin as soon as possible.
“I really am looking forward to this new office opening with a comprehensive service model because without a comprehensive approach it won’t be successful,” said Coun. Murry Krause.
Mayor Lyn Hall also clarified that the new bylaw officers would also cover the civic facilities in the downtown area, that the private security services are currently covering.
The motion to reallocate the $400,000 annual budget to bylaw services was passed unanimously by council.
The recommendation to reallocate the funding is one of the four ‘key commitments’ from the Select Committee on a Safe, Clean and Inclusive Community, that city council approved earlier in the meeting.
The key commitments outline further actions to improve conditions downtown and throughout the community presented in the committee’s first report.
The committee was formed following a public consultation on Dec. 2, 2019, to allow representatives of the business community and members of the public to share their concerns and suggestions on a variety of community social issues mainly regarding homelessness, crime, and the ongoing opioid epidemic.
Comprised of 14 members, the committee was formed to advise council and City staff on priorities and strategies related to key issues and work required to be done to address social issues throughout Prince George, with a focus on the downtown core.
It consisted of representatives from local social service agencies, Northern Health, BC Housing, the RCMP, business organizations and community members.
“We have known for a very long time a that the city has been the go to organization for much of what is going on, not only in downtown but throughout our entire community, and our focus and our ability in our jurisdiction is limited, as is limited with other partner groups, so it’s important we drive this forward into an advocacy and a strong partner perspective,” said Mayor Hall regarding the committee's work.
“The City of Prince George can only do so much. We need to have partners at the table that can fulfill their jurisdictional duties and we need partners at the table that will help us advocate.”
The key commitments recognized by the city are focused on advocacy, coordination and a service enhancement review:
- · Facilitate a coordinated advocacy process
- There is a need to ensure that advocacy efforts are reflective of partner roles, coordinated, and focused on shared priorities
- The City, with leadership from the Mayor’s Office, will help facilitate and align community advocacy efforts
- · Advance the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus 2020 Blueprint for British Columbia’s Urban Future
- Mayor Lyn Hall has joined with the Mayors of 12 urban communities across B.C. to act as a unified voice on critical issues including substance use and treatment, mental health, and affordable housing
- · Lead the establishment of a Downtown Public Safety office
- This would help front-line staff from the public safety, health, and social service sectors to identify vulnerable people and collaboratively and rapidly connect them to services before they experience a negative or traumatic event (e.g. victimization, overdose, eviction, etc.)
- ·Evaluate and reprioritize the allocation of the Safe, Clean and Inclusive Service enhancement package
- In January 2020, council approved a multi-departmental service enhancement package to augment safety, cleanliness and social inclusiveness in the larger downtown area
- The committee says there has been significant learning because of these efforts, and opportunities to consider how this learning can further inform the City’s response to issues associated with cleanliness, safety, and social inclusion