In a long awaited report coming to council, city staff has finally diagnosed and proposed solutions for the seemingly high rate of crime in our downtown.
The report, originally asked for in 2017, has come back to council after much discussion with Police, Canadian Mental Health Association, Downtown Business Association and other area stakeholders. The report to council serves as an overview of what can be done to help.
The three main reasons for crime in our core according to the report are.
- Addiction and Mental Health – It was recognized that a number of the
issues being experienced are the result of unstabilized mental health challenge and addiction issues. The authors of the report also noted not everyone with an addiction and mental health issue is committing crime.
- COVID-19 Foot Traffic Impact – It was acknowledged that the impact of
COVID-19 on businesses, restaurants and resulting closures has had an impact on
crime and the perception of crime. A decrease in the number of people
visiting downtown has created a streetscape with limited foot traffic, which
opens opportunities for negative behaviour.
- Bill C-75 – Issues with current legislation regarding the catch and release of certain individuals committing crimes is a frustration point with law officials and residents.
The report also noted much of the above are national issues which need larger than municipal level attention, such as the challenges with Bill C-75.
The city believes the return of people to the downtown will play a major role in seeing the crime rate decrease. In addition, a new pilot program is being suggested in cooperation with multiple downtown shareholders.
The proposed Downtown Ambassador Program is designed based off similar endeavors currently at play in other communities. If accepted by council it would have a pilot-project cost of just over $104,000. The section of the report reads –
The Downtown Ambassador pilot program would see a collaborative model with a combination of paid and volunteer positions that help to keep the downtown safe and friendly. Attired in distinct uniforms, the Ambassador team share a common affinity for Downtown and an intimate understanding of what’s happening around the neighborhood.
The Downtown Ambassador Program aims to make Downtown Sault Ste. Marie’s
streets a comfortable and safe place to work, live, and visit. Ambassadors help
the public with directions, parking, provide answers to questions and check in
with local businesses. They are a liaison between the Downtown business
community and the DTA, City and SSM Police Services, Canadian Mental Health
Association and others. In addition, they will receive training in CPR, Mental
Health First Aid and Naloxone administration.
It is understood these Ambassadors would not be security guards. The cost is attributable to training, payroll and uniforms. There are multiple organizations looking into funding streams for this initiative.
Other things being looked at in regards to downtown safety include, security cameras, permanent security patrols, crime prevention through environmental design and downtown activation, i.e. opening back up.
The full report can be seen here starting on page 140.
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