Rebecca Bligh, Lisa Dominato and Sarah Kirby-Yung were joined by Vancouver Deputy Police Chief Howard Chow, harm reduction and recovery advocate Guy Felicella, and Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association president and CEO Nolan Marshall.
“I think we just first of all need to acknowledge the problem. The public is deeply concerned around public safety in the city right now,” Dominato said.
“The focus and priority of this forum is really to give space to our residents to hear their concerns and also to look at a constructive dialogue about what are some of the solutions we can come up with to respond to the rash of violence.”
According to the Vancouver Police Department, an average of four people are the victims of random, groundless attacks by unknown suspects in the city each day. The figures don’t include barfights, robberies, incidents of road rage or other assaults where the individuals are known to each other.
Last Saturday, one man allegedly attacked five women within 40 minutes while doing thousands of dollars in property damage. The previous weekend, Vancouver police said they responded to 60 separate assaults, 22 of which were random.
“We don’t have all the answers. We’ll stay in our lane, but oftentimes, we’re seeing these things before anybody else is and we want to make sure it’s out there, raise the awareness, sound the alarm bells,” said Chow in a Tuesday interview.
Dominato said the violence has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has created “more desperation” and highlighted many social inequalities.
“I think there’s a conversation to be had around do we have the necessary social supports in place for residents?” she told Global News ahead of the town hall.
“What I’m seeing right now is we need to dig deeper, we need to understand what are the causes and what’s driving this behaviour, and we need to use that information to inform public policy conversations and our advocacy.”
Other kinds of crime are also on the rise in Vancouver.
Last week, the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Area confirmed half of Chinatown’s annual budget now goes to security — a cost of $240,000 in 2021.
According to police, window-smashing has increased 40 per cent in the city since 2019, with thieves breaking into downtown shops to steal items whose value are less than the glass they broke to get them.
When it comes to the suspects for these crimes and others, including the violent unprovoked attacks on strangers, Chow said the Vancouver Police Department is encountering many repeat offenders — some with records of between 200 and 500 previous police interactions.
“Part of it is, you know, having to deal with the COVID restrictions similar to everybody else,” he explained.
“The criminal justice system has had to make modifications as well … certain people that may end up in jail aren’t ending up in jail. We’ve got backlogs that are taking place.”
Chow said social policies play a role too — in particular, a lack of long-term housing in combination with wraparound care available around the clock for those most in need.
The crime has prompted the VPD to launch a public education campaign about safety that includes pop-up tents around the city where officers listen to public concerns and hand out free personal safety alarms.
Dominato said the “police are working hard” to reduce the public safety risk, but said she, Bligh and Kirby-Yung have requested a meeting with the Vancouver Police Board and city council to look at additional options.
“We want to be constructive and balanced,” she said of the town hall taking place on Thursday.
The virtual forum begins at 4 p.m. and ends at 6 p.m. Participants can pre-reigster at speakingofvan.ca. It will be the first in a series of public conversations called ‘Speaking of Vancouver.’