Queensway, VLA Residents Present Concerns
Prince George, B.C. – The head of the Prince George police force sat down with residents and business owners in one of the higher crime neighbourhoods in the city Tuesday night to open the discussion about issues which, it seems, everyone wants resolved.
The town hall meeting was hosted by Prince George RCMP Superintendent Warren Brown as the first step in a proactive approach to identifying the problems, outlining the responsibilities of the various stakeholders and working to correct the issues that negatively impact the Queensway and VLA area.
Just over sixty residents, members of the group which heads the City of Prince George Organizational Chart, attended along with Supt. Brown, Staff-Sgt. Perry Smith, Inspector Brad Anderson and the head of Community Policing, Cpl. Forseth, from the RCMP. City Manager Kathleen Soltis, Community Services General Manager Rob Whitwam and representatives from Bylaw Services and Prince George Fire Rescue were there from City Hall.
Supt. Brown noted the meeting was “a discussion around the Queensway Avenue area, in and around the motel there. We’ve had some concerns brought to our attention in recent weeks.” And speaking to those gathered in council chambers he said “I don’t want you to think the police are inept or incompetent, that we don’t know what to do. However, this is not theatre, we’re not going to stage putting a play on for you. You folks, this is your home, this is your community as well. We need you to be part of the conversation, we need to hear what your concerns are.”
Supt. Brown makes it clear that “near and dear to my heart, if there are bad guys they need to go to jail. However, there are some social issues around vulnerable people, and sometimes an environment exists that causes good people to maybe make some poor decisions.” He says the RCMP is out to find solutions “and we’re here to work with you to ensure that everybody, including businesses and residents, can enjoy a safe neighbourhood.”
Recently Cpl. Forseth knocked on over three hundred doors within the Queensway area and found citizens raised concerns about condoms and needles recklessly discarded, sex trade workers loitering in front of businesses, people digging in dumpsters and leaving garbage strewn about, drug users checking parked car doors for theft opportunities, break-in and theft from vehicles and people being followed and intimidated while walking to and from their homes.
Despite those concerns, Staff-Sgt. Smith said “resident of the area stated that things are better now than they were ten years ago.” He noted that calls for service in the area have fallen from 779 in 2011 to 604 in in 2015 while Criminal Code files have been on a steady downward trend from 2011.
But the problems continue, and residents stepped forward to make the police and make the City aware of some problem locations: the drug traffic around an apartment building at 17th and Juniper, prostitution day and night on Ingledew Street resulting in increased and unsafe vehicular traffic, vehicle and residential break-ins, poor management of some rental properties with little screening of renters, lack of police response or, in a few instances, rude telephone response to citizen reports of crimes taking place, to name a few.
One resident said it plain and simply, “We just want our own homes to be safe.” “We’re not trying to be nasty to people, we just want them to stop being nasty to us.”
Another noted that crime is definitely pushing property values down and added that the City investing in more police officers would stop that. “Everybody says it costs, it costs, it costs to get the police out there because to get extra police costs extra money. Well not having the police in our neighbourhood has repressed the values in our neighbourhood a huge amount. And the tax return they would have every year, if they brought some police and parked them around our neighbourhood, would increase and they’d get their money back, simply.”
Staff-Sgt. Smith said “that’s why we’re having this meeting, that’s why we’re canvassing in the community, is to come up with solutions for this issue.”
The police representatives repeated during the evening that it’s important that people get to know their neighbours and watch out for each other. It was also noted that the use of residential and street security cameras can provide very useful data in dealing with the problems at hand.
A lady who has owned her home in the Connaught area for 42 years says she has watched the area deteriorate, in part, because the city moved the prostitution problem around from the Millar addition to the VLA. She says meetings have been taking place for about 15 years to no avail and says a big part of the prostitution problem has to do with the customers. “I we get rid of the damn Johns it would help a lot. Let’s do something.”
Another concern she addressed to the City reps on hand is the brush on Connaught Hill. “The bush all at the top of the hill. I’m scared to go up those stairs in the summertime because you don’t know what’s going to crawl out of there. You don’t have to take the trees out but please take the brush out so you can make it safe for the tourists and the people living there.”
And her final point returned to prostitution. “We were always calling (police) on hookers, but apparently the law has changed now so should we still be calling on hookers? Should we still be getting the Johns’ plate numbers? What can we do to help get this out of our neighbourhood? It is better, but its because we’ve been working, too.”
The answer from Staff-Sgt. Smith was “the reality is yes, still call, that’s the message we’re putting out.”
The final word from a resident’s perspective on the complexities affecting the neighbourhood was that safety is a big issue, especially in the evening. “I don’t want to live in fear. My daughters can’t go out of the house in the evening out of fear.” “And you can be left feeling fearful to speak out.”
Asked his thoughts about the meeting Superintendent Warren Brown says “I take away that there’s a real strong group of residents in the area that have a lot of passion for their neighbourhood and they want to see a neighbourhood safe so that they can feel free to walk around at night and ensure their children can do the same. And it’s evident tonight that they don’t feel that way, so my takeaway is to address some of their issues.” “But,” he adds, “we can’t do this alone.”
He says “we’ll gather the data from tonight, we’ll look at ears that we have responsibility over and then we’ll reach out to some of our stakeholders and see what areas of responsibility or sphere of influence they may have.”
“We’ve heard some issues around a park and perhaps how to make that safer or the perception of that park safer. We’ve heard some apartment buildings seemingly where there’s some criminal behavior, so we can speak to management there to ensure that they’re collectively looking after the folks to keep them safe, because they share some responsibility.”
“There are some sex trade workers who suffer from addictions and other influences in their environment that obviously lead them to a lifestyle like that so, again, we need to reach out to some of the support care for those folks. And collectively as a community I think there’s some little things we can do for some quick victories and perhaps there’s some longer-term plans we could look at as well.”
As far as assuring the Queensway residents that this meeting wasn’t simply a one-off, Supt. Brown says “Right, we heard people tell stories about phoning the police and they didn’t see the police come, so it’s just that communication piece that really seems to be lingering. So, albeit we’re not going to carry on meeting after meeting with consultation, I think with some of the crime analysis that we’ve done, corroborated by a lot of the input from the folks here tonight, I think it’s time to start identifying some strategies, some actions plans, put those into play.”
“And then, when we start to make some impact, get back to the community as a whole and perhaps, in a couple or three months, we can have another meeting and provide an update. I’d like to think that we are going to have some positive things to update but again, time will tell.”