Security never sleeps
Demand for private security firms is soaring in downtown Vancouver, a phenomenon retailers and business associations say is driven in part by the rise of 24-hour retailers – and round-the-clock crime – in the city core.
“They (all night convenience stores) give dealers a convenient place to meet,” said Igor Kivritsky, owner of the Hi-Fi Centre on Seymour Street, next door to the 7-Eleven convenience store at Dunsmuir Street.
A recent police crackdown on drug dealing in the Downtown Eastside pushed illicit activities into other areas of downtown, Kivritsky said.
But at the same time, 7-Eleven and other retailers were opening new locations to cater to the growing number of residents in the condos rising adjacent to downtown.
“The uncontrolled proliferation of 24-hour retail is pulling crime into the neighbourhood, particularly where that 24-hour retail is adjacent to the known drug corridors,” said Dave Jones, a former member of the Vancouver Police Department and now director of crime prevention with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association. “The city has not paid proper consideration to the impact of types of businesses.”
Though some of the main for illicit activity downtown -Seymour and Dunsmuir, Granville and Drake, Hornby and Davie – correspond with 7-Eleven locations, Jones said all night Blenz, Tim Hortons, and McDonald’s locations play an equal role as gathering points. Their as respectable retailers unfortunately makes them good destinations for other, less respectable businesses, he said.
“[They’re] not considering what unfortunately happens – you put bright lights in and moths are attracted,” Jones said.
Jones believes the city should regulate 24-hour retailers, subjecting their social effects to the same scrutiny it gave the impact of big-box retailers on Southwest Marine Drive. Citing negative community impacts, a majority of councillors rejected new Wat-Mart and Canadian Tire complexes in the area, a decision that raised eyebrows.
“City council has opened the door here with their decision on Wal-Mart, saying in effect that they do have the ability to determine what kind of retail can go into an area and put conditions on it, so we expect that they will now properly face this issue of 24-hour retail-the extent of it, the density (in particular) and the conditions under which exist and the locations,” Jones said.
In the meantime, local businesses and merchants’ associations are contracting private security firms to address the problem of unwanted street activity and the threats it poses their businesses.
Business for Vancouver-based Genesis Security Inc. has nearly doubled over the year, said CamiJ Dubuc, Genesis president.
Dubuc said municipal policing has not kept pace with public concern regarding property crime, having become become geared towards intensive policing initiatives such as investigations.
That’s created opportunities for Genesis and other private security firms, which collectively do between $10 million and $20 million in business in the Lower Mainland each year.
Providing basic security services and serving as first responders when a crime takes place makes private security companies “the ears and eyes” of municipal police forces, Dubuc said.
Move them along
Genesis guards, equipped with neither handcuffs nor weapons, provide a uniformed presence that effectively discourages crime, he explained. When illegal activity occurs, they intervene using the right of citizen’s arrest. While training makes guards better able to handle criminal behaviour than the average citizen might, Dubuc said they also uec common sense to decide whether or not to intervene or simply serve as witnesses until police arrive.
Being proactive helps, Dubuc said. By encouraging people who might cause or attract trouble to keep moving – and doing it in uniform, with an authoritative but respectful tone – security guards can effect positive change.
“We’re not looking for these guys to be arrested. We want to make it difficult for them to do business,” said Hi-Fi Centre’s Kivriesky, who helped gather support from Seymour Street merchants for Genesis providing an eight-day trial of its services. The street cleaned up and merchants are the possibility of contracting Genesis to provide the service on an ongoing basis.
Similar programs are in place throughout the downtown core and adjacent areas.
The Downtown Vancouver BlA runs its Downtown Ambassadors program in partnership with Initial Security, while the Gastown Business Improvement Society has engaged two Paladin Security guards to patrol its area.
Provident Security keeps an eye on South areas for local business improvement associations.
“The security company is there to make it as safe and enjoyable an environment as possible,” said Terri Clark, coordinator of the Kerrisdale Business Improvement Association.
Provident provides security on an as-needed basis during the day but makes regular patrols at night because the shopping district is relatively deserted compared to Robson Street, South Granville and other areas, said Ross president of the Kerrisdale BIA and owner of local fashion retailer Hills of Kerrisdale.
Provident guarantees a five-minute response to alarms on the West Side, Hill said, something most businesses no longer expect municipal police services to provide.
“Property crime has gone up and the that police are going to respond has gone down,” he said.
Business’ reduced expectations of police services also means retailers are looking at taking more responsibility for security through integrated security systems, said Provident president Michael Jagger.
Provident provides a full range of services, from alarm installation and monitoring to patrols. It also boasts a sophisticated electronic monitoring system alerts guards to movement at a site before any crime occurs. Should surveillance camera images of the activity arouse suspicion, instant messaging alerts a guard who pays a visit to the property.
“The best security comes from when we couple the electronic systems with the guards, because that’s what helps us be everywhere at once'” Jagger said.
Provident’s business has grown by half over the past year, and security guards are increasingly in demand elsewhere in Greater Vancouver and across the province.
In Surrey and Langley, major shopping malls have been running volunteer and paid mall patrols, with the help of ICBC, that have proven successful in reducing thefts from cars in mall parking lots. The patrols are armed with uniforms, two-way radios or cell phones and some use bicycles to patrol the mammoth parking lots.
If the patrols notice the windows are left open in a car they alert customer service which in turn can page the owner. If suspicious activity is noted, police are called. The programs have been effective.
Within three months of the patrols being set up at auto in mall parking lot dropped by 80 per cent, according to the Surrey Crime Prevention Society, which helps administer the volunteer programs. The RCMP also supports such initiatives through its Lock Out Auto Crime Program.
Anita Bnmet, president of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Security Association, said a non-response policy by police in Victoria means security firms now bear the onus for responding to security alarms. The faster response time for a few extra dollars a month is welcome, she said.
The greater opportunities are pursuing hasn’t meant greater tension among competitors, however.
Pointing to Genesis’ recent launch of a Kerrisdale patrol targeting the residential market, Jagger said a spirit of cooperation prevails among the various agencies and companies providing security services.
“Certainly, we’re competitors but our clients have some shared needs,” he said. “It makes everybody look better to cooperate to solve the customers’ problems.”
The growth in business for private firms shouldn’t be taken as a sign that retailers feel under siege, said Neil Boyd, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University.
While a siege mentality may be true in some of the U.S., Boyd said businesses in the Lower Mainland are simply concerned about theft and public order in shopping centres and other public spaces that are privately managed. Often, it’s a question of liability, and reducing potential risks.
“It has to do with maintaining public safety and security in private spaces, as much as these spaces are private spaces,” he said. “Their role is to try to smooth things, to try to defuse conflict.”Published August 1, 2005 · Western Investor · Written by Peter Mitham