Leaders of two Hamilton, Ont., businesses, who’ve operated in the downtown area for a combined 120 years, says an increased police presence in the area has helped “decrease” a recent rash of shoplifting, panhandling and property damage.
CEO Mary Aduckiewicz of Denninger’s Foods says communication with Hamilton police has so far been helpful and alleviated some aggressive behaviour near the King Street East grocer, but says it’s not yet disappeared.
“We’ve got folks that exhibit excessive behaviour, both physical and verbal to our staff,” Aduckiewicz told 900 CHML’s Good Morning Hamilton.
“Shoplifting has gone way, way up … aggressive panhandling, we’ve had some property damage … and graffiti, tagging and that sort of thing.”
Troy Thompson, owner of G W Thompson Jeweller and Pawnbroker, says he’s had similar issues at his shop equating to concerns from customers who’ve felt “a little bit uncomfortable” doing business in the core.
“Reaching out to the police was the first option that Mary and I discussed, and it’s been a positive,” Thompson said.
Hamilton police chief Frank Bergen says the stories sound familiar with calls for service up about 12 per cent year over year in the core putting the area in a continuous “emergency response” situation.
“What we need is a coordinated city (and) provincial response that speaks about risk intervention and prevention,” Bergen suggested.
“We’re looking at these opportunities. This is good dialog for a me to understand, but policing should not always be in a reactive mode.”
Bergen suggests the current community safety and well-being plan simply falls into the lap of the municipality and as such needs to “collectively” address increased homelessness, harm reduction, poverty and mental illness.
Over the last decade, such collaborations have created a social navigator program — pairing officers with paramedics for patrols.
Since 2013, Hamilton has also had a mobile crisis rapid response team, consisting of mental health professionals with uniformed officers, which dealt with some 4,300 calls for service in 2021.
Aduckiewicz and Thompson requested the return of beat cops as a short-term measure at a late April police board meeting on the advice of Ward 2 counc. Cameron Kroetsch.
It came after about 80 per cent of 31 Denninger’s staff at the King location, participating in an anonymous survey, admitted they felt unsafe at work.
About 73 per cent said leaving work after dark was at times uncomfortable.
The downtown hasn’t seen a foot patrol officer in almost a decade after the last dedicated beat cop retired in 2015.
Bergen, who was once a beat cop, says that “action team” member was “rededicated” years ago due to staffing challenges.
During the April meeting, the chief told the board that more staff would be required to meet that deployment request.
In the interim, the service has essentially replaced that with “park and walks” in which officers leave their cruiser to walk the streets during their shift.
“So from Bay Street to Wellington, they’re doing that regularly and we are seeing an impact, ” Bergen revealed.
“What we need to do is work with our board, work with our city to look at sustainable models of that delivery.”