Nanaimo Funds $2.5 Million Downtown Safety and Unrest Action Plan | NanaimoNewsNOW
He added that the challenge for the City of Nanaimo was to address downstream issues arising from causes outside of its capabilities and jurisdiction.
Krog said frustrations abound in the community over a seemingly ineffective criminal justice system for health care.
“Everyone knows that in the end a criminal sanction will be meaningless and will have no impact on behavior…at the end of the day the real issues have to be dealt with by a health system that does not work most vulnerable among us.
The committee’s recommendations will be forwarded to the Board for approval at a subsequent meeting.
What is involved in the plan?
The action plan, which will come into effect on July 1, 2022, includes hiring 12 uniformed Community Safety Officers (CSOs), adding a second community cleaning team downtown, creating a vandalism relief grant for businesses, among other strategies to connect people in crisis to available resources.
“It’s very clear…there aren’t enough services for people in need in Nanaimo and even in other communities,” consultant Allan Neilson, author of the plan and recommendations, told councilors. “There are certain services for people in need, so we want, following this plan, to ensure that wherever these services exist, we enable increased connection to services.”
The fundamental pillar behind the plan, and its key difference from past efforts to curb disruptive behavior, is a layered approach that Neilson says has worked in communities like Kamloops and Maple Ridge.
Neilson’s plan calls for a more efficient and managed approach combining city personnel, contracted private security and the Nanaimo RCMP, led by the dozen community safety officers.
Officers are about to become full-time City staff.
The plan is intended to be in place for the long term.
Funding for new positions and expanded services is annual, rather than a one-time payment with short-term benefits but no long-term legacy.
Neilson answered a question from the Earl. Sheryl Armstrong on what made this new direction better, when so many things have been tried in the past.
“What we are proposing is to create these positions as municipal positions and fund them as municipal positions, so you have automatic permanence there as municipal positions. We’re not suggesting them as a pilot project, we’re not suggesting them as RCMP positions or… third party positions.
The biggest obstacle identified was actually finding people to fill the positions.
Other positions at the Nanaimo RCMP Detachment have not been filled, and a report from the city says their security contractors also struggled to fill those positions.
Neilson said the process “was not going to be easy,” but was optimistic based on feedback from other communities that were following similar plans.
“We believe that while hiring the right people and recruiting people is never the easiest proposition, based on the experience of other places, we will get there.”
Hiring CSOs would free up other resources.
Private security would be redirected and funded by individual companies looking for an added layer of protection, while Nanaimo City By-Law and RCMP could be better deployed in their respective areas.
CHWs would also be tasked with working outside the current patrol hours for bylaws officers.
“We have (policy officers) who work weekends, but most … work weekdays and most of them work around dinner time, but we really need help. different times for these programs, so we want CSOs to run until 11:00 p.m., midnight. or two in the morning,” Neilson said.
Officers would receive training on defensive use of force programs to handle situations that turn violent and would liaise with the RCMP as needed.
While no specific location for their base of operations has been decided, Neilson said it was best to have the officers out of City Hall, with the former Community Policing office on Victoria Cres. considered a potential location.
Foot for invoice
The sticker price of $2.5 million per year was the main concern of advisers during the debate at Wednesday’s meeting.
Actual costs will range from approximately $1.5 million in 2022, $2.8 million the following year before averaging $2.5 million on an annual basis.
The cost of the program will be funded primarily by tax revenue on an annual basis, with councilors opting for a tax increase of 0.9% for 2022 and 1% for 2023.
It was the preferred option to a phased approach that would have reduced tax increases in the short term, but increased the burden in future years.
Com. Don Bonner said the money was probably already being spent in other areas to address the same issues.
“I believe it is a necessary expense, given the position we find ourselves in. I strongly believe that we are spending close to $2.5 million a year (anyway) because the province is not doing its job and providing the services we need here.”
Laura Mercer, the city’s chief financial officer, said her department had looked at several different ways to fund this program without tax increases, but the permanent nature of this proposed solution made it difficult.
“We don’t have many options other than taxation as a stable source of revenue,” Mercer said. “There could be subsidies, but they’re usually one-time things and you’ll just delay that tax increase until a later date.”
In a presentation, Mercer identified some savings the City has been able to realize that will account for a good portion of the costs of implementing the program in 2022.
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