British Columbia

Prince George's top cop says city needs help from province to address social issues downtown

RCMP superintendent says addiction and mental health issues are root cause of many downtown safety concerns in the city.

RCMP superintendent says addiction and mental health issues are root cause of many downtown safety concerns

Shaun Wright, now RCMP superintendent for Prince George, speaks to reporters at the local detachment in this file photo. (Wil Fundal/CBC)

Prince George's top cop says the city needs help from the province to deal with social and safety concerns facing downtown business owners in the community.

Over the past several months, multiple people who work downtown have expressed frustration at what they characterize as a rise in petty crime and unsafe activity.

Shaun Wright, who was promoted to RCMP superintendent in Prince George over the summer, said while there hasn't been a major spike in reported crimes in the city, the visibility of social problems related to homelessness and addiction has grown.

"I think there is a more visible, larger, and even perhaps slightly more aggressive element within the homeless population over the last couple years," he told CBC Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk.

"A lot of these issues are mental health, social housing and addiction... A lot of those really fall under the purview of the provincial government, and it's provincial ministries that really need to step up and have the authority and jurisdiction to deal with those issues that cause these symptomatic things."

'I'm not dealing with this anymore'

The most recent incident to receive widespread attention came when the owner of Topaz Bead Gallery said she was punched in the face by a shoplifter on Oct. 22.

Kate Roxburgh said she saw a woman pocket some merchandise and attempted to prevent her from leaving the store, leading to the physical altercation.

The incident, Roxburgh said, was the final straw after months of frustration at the state of the neighbourhood.

Kate Roxburgh said she wants to sell her business on 4th Ave. in downtown Prince George after she was allegedly assaulted by an attempted shoplifter. (Nicole Oud/CBC)

"I went home that night after I was assaulted, and I put my business up for sale," she said. "I'm not dealing with this anymore."

It's not just crime. Business owners also complain about aggressive panhandlers, human waste, tents set up on sidewalks and drug paraphernalia in alleys and parking lots.

"We are tired of picking up (used) needles," said Alison Akehurst, who owns a gift shop on the same block as Roxburgh's business. "We are tired of picking up human poop out of our back doorways."

Responding to complaints

Wright said he is attempting to use an "intelligence-based" approach to crime prevention, deploying officers to parts of the city that regularly receive complaints related to public intoxication and disturbing the peace.

But he said it can be difficult to free up officers to deal with nuisance calls downtown while also effectively policing other parts of the city.

"If we have to respond to an armed robbery somewhere else in the city, or a report of domestic violence, we're going to do that before we go to the guy yelling in the street," he said.

"I would love to [have] a police officer on every corner, but obviously we don't have the tax base for that."

Listen to the full interview with Supt. Wright by clicking the 'play' button below.

Shaun Wright is the new top cop in Prince George. He speaks with Carolina de Ryk about the state of the city's downtown. 8:58
 

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With files from Nicole Oud

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