A troubling report on the state of policing in Prince George
Plus, who owns what downtown? Get ready for some surprises!
We have a meaty newsletter today with hostile architecture disappearing, the revelation that the mayor owns a derelict downtown building and a troubling report on the state of policing in the city.
The hostile architecture of unknown origin is gone
On Nov. 24, Twitter user @heartsof0ak posted a picture of gates set up around a planter box downtown with the caption “This city is so unkind.” That prompted many others to weigh in with dismay over the presence of hostile architecture in the community — that is, designs and additions that make it impossible for people generally, but homeless people specifically, to sit, relax or basically stick around.
Soon after, the city’s comms team revealed that this feature had not been installed by anybody on city staff and work was underway to figure out who was responsible. That prompted some speculation about whether the addition counted as vandalism — after all, it (appears) to be on city property and wasn’t authorized, but while we haven’t had an answer to that, word came late last week that it had been removed.
The mayor owns the former Growlies Pizza
“I have sinned,” Simon Yu says of the building falling into disrepair
People of a certain age will remember the building at 1190 3rd Ave. as Growlies, a dingy pizza and paraphenelia joint that doubled as a venue for punk/hardcore shows. It later became Pizza Rico’s and then maybe something else but for about a decade or so it has been absolutely nothing, sitting there with old newspapers on the windows and no apparent plans to become anything.
This prompted downtown business owner JP Palmer to inquire about whether the city should step in to do something about it and, he says on Facebook, being told the building “is beautiful” and in good repair.
That took a bit of a strange twist Monday when Caden Fanshaw of CKPG reported the owner is none other than Mayor Simon Yu, who says he’s been trying to do soemthing the building since 2014 but has had difficulty getting financing and apologizing (quotes from the video embeddedthe article):
“Ugliness is a sin… and sorry, I have sinned. I hope I have sinned no more and let’s find a way to redeem ourselves.”
Fanshaw goes on to quote the city’s bylaw on unsightly properties, pointing out several features that are clearly present on the building — and yet were apparently deemed not actionable by bylaw manager.
No word on if the building is actually going to be fixed, though.
And finally: Who owns the outside of your door?
Alright before we get to the police report, here’s the other news:
Still dealing with school bus cancellations throwing their lives into disarray, rural parents are being offered reimbursement forms by School District 57.
A beautiful feature on efforts to expand the park around the Ancient Forest Provincial Park/Chun T’oh Whudujut.
A national news piece on efforts to resettle Ukrainian refugees in Prince George (near the end of the cast).
A January event in which veteran Prince George musicians showcase their old and new works.
A good throwback:
Thanks for reading northern capital news! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
The dire state of policing in Prince George
A new report shows local RCMP are 84% more overworked than other big cities, leading to burnout and a complete inability to do proactive, community work. Fixing it is going to cost us.
Last year as the city was going over its budget, several councillors started to ask questions about how much they were paying for police, especially compared to other similarly-sized municipalities:
And so while the budget was approved, so, too, was a direction to staff to prepare a report looking into the city’s policing costs versus those of other B.C. municipalities. Now, that report is in, and it is a doozy. Prepared by a trio of PhDs (two in criminology and one in business administration), it’s being presented at a Wednesday Committee of the Whole meeting, and here’s part of a summary prepared for council:
The attached Provincial Police Resources in British Columbia, 2020, provides data that shows Prince George has among the highest case load, crime rate and criminal offences across the province. In terms of total counts, only Surrey and Vancouver are higher, despite having respective populations multiple times larger than Prince George. For context, the City of Richmond has about 2.5 times the population of Prince George (216,046 compared to 82,268 in PG). Richmond has nearly twice the number of RCMP adjusted strength members, at 276 (compared to 142 in PG). Yet, Prince George has a crime rate nearly 4 times higher, with a case load 3 times higher, and over 5,500 Criminal Code offences more than Richmond.
To make this abundantly clear: Prince George RCMP are staffed to police a city of just over 80,000 people but are dealing with more crimes, cases and calls for services than cities nearly three times larger. That, not surprisingly, has a major impact on the ability of the cops to do their job. A few sample findings from the report itself follow.
Prince George Municipal RCMP officers have an individual caseload burden 84% higher than the average for all BC RCMP policed municipalities over 15,000 in population. RCMP officers in Prince George carry an individual property crime case burden twice as high as the average for all BC RCMP policed municipalities over 15,000 population.
On a lack of officers available to do the job required:
The detachment is currently under-resourced and has difficulty meeting shift minimums. Officers are reluctant to take shifts on an overtime basis due to mental fatigue and concerns with work-life balance. This impacts the ability of the detachment to respond to service demands from the community, to develop strategic partnerships with the community, and to implement and sustain effective crime prevention, crime suppression, and crime response strategies.
On the mental health of officers themselves:
A lack of resources to effectively respond to increasing service demands is having a significant impact on the mental health of sworn members and civilian staff. Approximately 20% of the Sworn Officers are on leave, many for mental health related issues. Civilian staff are also challenged with the demands of their positions.
And this also means police aren’t doing the sort of work residents want them to. One of the top promises from all mayoral candidates during the election campaign was that they would have more “boots on the ground” be redeploying existing RCMP officers to do downtown patrols. Good luck with that:
The detachment currently has virtually no capacity to do community policing, including proactive community engagement, police-community partnerships, crime prevention, and problem solving. Previously existing programs and units have been discontinued and officer resources directed to front-line call response.
The report also raises concerns that police are being called upon to do things police shouldn’t be doing, such as mental health and addictions calls that might better be handled by other agencies, such as Northern Health. While police have a role, the report suggests the city needs to take a more holistic approach to the problems facing the community:
Merely adding officer positions to the current model will not provide the City with a good ROI [return on investment], will not assist in meeting the challenges facing the community, and will not take advantage of the opportunities to provide policing services within a community-focused policing model.
There is a lot in the report — including concerns that the city is subsidizing a lack of provincial funding for ambulances by having fire and rescue respond to medical calls — and if you want more detail, I suggest you read it for yourself. The bottom line the report paints is this is a police force that is overburdened and underesourced, a situation complicated by a lack of an overall vision for how the city as a whole can work with other agencies to tackle these problems.
The bottom line:
As for the cost of RCMP in Prince George? The report authors say if we want to tackle these problems, we’re going to have to pay even more, suggesting we add 19 new uniformed officers, 10 civilian support staff and multiple other positions including a “peer navigator” stationed at the downtown library to offer supports to vulnerable people, building on similar projects across North America. That will amount to about $1 million in additional costs per year for five years, and those costs are ongoing, meaning by 2027 we will have added more than $5 million to a police budget that’s already approaching $40 million annually.
And to be clear: They are not suggesting simply funding more officers for the sake of doing what we’re already doing. They have specific recommendations for the positions and strategies each of these new hires should take on, including youth liason team, neighbourhood police officers, and an expansion of the Car 60 program that partners police with mental health professionals from Northern Health. The authors warn, as many have before, that this is not a situation we can arrest our way out of, and targeted approaches are needed.
But where will the money come from?
Remember, this report was commissioned because the city was already worried it was paying too much for the police — more than a quarter of the entire budget. And we’re already facing a steep tax hike in the year ahead, with city staff being asked to find places to cut more than $3.5 million in services. Now we’re looking at adding an additional $5 million in annual policing costs by 2027.
But at the same time, crime and public safety is probably the top topic of conversation in both the city, and the province. New premier David Eby has promised the province will play a more active role in helping cities tackling these issues after years of costs being downloaded onto municipalities. He’s also promised to come to Prince George to discuss these problems and I’m certain this report will come up: In fact, the authors suggest it be used to appeal to other levels of government for more support.
But right now, it’s the city that’s being asked to make the first move by putting extra money into the budget to start hiring officers. We’ll see if they do.
Northern Capital News is a daily newsletter about life in Prince George. Please consider subscribing or, if you have, sharing with someone else.