The City Should Not Fund the Downtown Ambassador Program: Provident Security

163563-53542As a part of the City of Vancouver’sCivil City Initiative, more than $800,000 has been (controversially) allocated for expansion of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Area (DVBIA)Downtown Ambassadorprogram. Initially, the idea was to offer an incentive for other city BIA’s (such as Gastown, Robson Street, Chinatown, Davie Village, etc.) to use the Downtown Ambassadors and for those BIA’s to be eligible to receive city funding to ‘top up’ any BIA money spent on the program.

The initial version of the policy drafted by City Council only allowed for BIA’s to be eligible for funding if they used the Downtown Ambassadors (rather than any existing, or alternate, security provider). Given that the DVBIA also charges an annual ‘licensing’ fee to any other BIA as well as management fees, the program effectively put a non-profit business association into the security business.

There are so many conflicts of interest, operational and ethical problems with that particular set-up, it’s hard to know where to start.

A subsequent revision of the program expanded the scope so that any business association in the city could apply for money for either an ‘Ambassador’ program or ‘Ambassador-like’ program expansion. There was a fairly thorough vetting process designed to ensure that these other programs met many specific criteria (such as human rights training) before they could be ‘approved’ for funding. Kerrisdale’s existing security program falls into the category of ‘Ambassador-like’.

As a result, The Kerrisdale Business Association, like many other BIA’s in the city, applied to receive money to expand the existing Kerrisdale security program to add approximately three additional day shifts per week. On September 16th Kerrisdale was approved.

Provident has been providing security for the Kerrisdale Business Association (KBA) since 1997… we were originally hired to address a major burglary problem along West 41st Avenue. Working closely with the merchants and KBA, we dramatically reduced the number of burglaries almost immediately. Since that time, the scope of the security program in Kerrisdale has expanded to include daytime patrols as well to address issues like shoplifting, aggressive panhandling and graffiti. There is no question that the security program works well and has provided tremendous value.

KBA members pay 100% of the cost of the security program, and have since 1997.

To the best of my knowledge, only Chinatown and Gastown have had community security programs in place longer. Since then, most BIA’s in the city have since initiated similar patrol programs… many of which sent delegates to Kerrisdale to learn about the specific ways that we’ve been able to achieve such significant results… one of which was the DVBIA.

Following the lead of many other downtown business associations, the DVBIA opted to create their own branded security program … the Downtown Ambassadors.

The increased security will be good for the KBA and it provides additional value for KBA members as well as the Kerrisdale community.

Without question, if any BIA in the city deserves to be eligible for city funding for security, it’s Kerrisdale. Kerrisdale merchants have spent well over $1 million dollars on security services over the past decade and should be first in line for any financial support from the city. Obviously, Provident also stands to benefit financially from this program.

This is not how taxpayer’s money should be spent…

The City is in a unique position in that it can do what no BIA, or other private business in Vancouver, can do… the City can hire Police Officers. They should.

Rather than funding private security guards, the City should spend money dedicating VPD Constables to specific neighbourhoods.

There is no question that you can hire more security guards than police officers for the same amount of money… but it is a question of impact.

In the case of Kerrisdale, there is one full-time VPD Constable shared between Kerrisdale, Oakridge and Marpole… Cst. Ray Gardner.

The impact this one Community Policing Constable, despite being split between the three areas, has had in our neighbourhood is profound. Beyond the consistent and visible Police presence on the street, it enhances our security program. It gives our team an individual person to liaise with and serves to make the investment that the KBA has made in security have much greater impact. Its great for us, our clients, the neighbourhood and the Police themselves.

We are on patrol in the neighbourhood 24 hours a day… anytime we encounter an urgent situation that requires immediate Police response, we call 911. For the vast majority of other issues where Police attendance would be very helpful, we call theCommunity Policing Centre, or Cst. Gardner, directly.

Because he has the mandate, interest, and time to focus on our neighbourhood, we receive follow-up and assistance that other patrol Constables are simply too busy to be able to provide.

Whether it is responding to calls from merchants regarding shoplifters, following up with youth caught vandalizing property or tagging, educating merchants or being able to spend enough time to get to the bottom of a <atarget=_blank” title=”Ladder theft post” href=”” target=”_blank”>ladder theft… community policing really works. Rather than having to wait for a situation to escalate to the point where Police response is the only option, we can work with Cst. Gardner to intervene much earlier in the process … allowing both Provident and the VPD to be much more proactive.

If the city wants to get maximum value for the dollars that they are spending to make Vancouver a safer and more ‘civil’ city, it should focus on spending the money in a way that provides unique and maximum value.

There is no question in my mind that having the KOM Community Policing Centre, and specifically Cst, Ray Gardner, has allowed Provident to be much more effective for the KBA.

If there is $800,000.00 to spend, assigning all of it to additional Constables who would be dedicated to provide service to specific neighbourhoods would have a much more profound impact. It would do a lot of things that BIA’s might be surprised by… like making the money that they are already spending on private security much more effective.

Published December 1, 2008 · · Written by Michael Jagger

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