Lowertown foot patrol should be year-round, city councillor says

Rideau-Vanier councillor Mathieu Fleury wants Ottawa police foot patrols in Lowertown all year instead of just the summer, but police say they can't afford it.

Would cost police as much as $1M to keep 12 officers on year-round patrols

Rideau-Vanier councillor Mathieu Fleury wants Ottawa police foot patrols in Lowertown all year instead of just the summer, but police say they can't afford it.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury says he's willing to compromise by extending the program for a few more months, or by having fewer officers assigned to the patrol. (CBC News)

The foot patrol was started in 2013 as a pilot program to address the high volume of calls to police from the ByWard Market, Rideau Street and Sandy Hill areas.

The program sees about 10-14 officers from other units assigned to augment the Lowertown foot patrol from July to the end of September, when the neighbourhood is busiest.

Fleury said the three hotspots for crime on Rideau Street are McDonald's, the Beer Store and the LCBO — and that it's not just a summer problem.

"[Police are] there all the time just by the virtue of the calls coming in, so we would like a presence that's beyond the summer period, expanded throughout the year," Fleury told CBC News.

The Lowertown Community Association also wants the patrol extended.

"Of course we would like to see this happening 12 months out of the year. A lot of our problems in this neighbourhood happen after 2 a.m. We do have the highest concentration of bars and restaurants in the city and after 2 a.m. is when we do see a lot of these problems happening," said vice-president Nathalie Vallières.

'Worse in the winter'

Sam Dalbah, the owner of the Second Cup on Rideau Street, said he is forced to call police four times a week.

Sam Dalbah is the owner of the Second Cup on Rideau Street. (Ashley Burke/CBC)
"We've seen people punching each other, like blood, basically. And I've seen people try to stab each other in front of the store," he said.

After nine years in business, he said the problem is at its peak this winter. If things don't improve, he's considering moving his business.

"For us, for businesses, it's worse in the winter because people in the streets they can't stay outside. Because it's too cold, they force themselves inside our businesses," he said.

"I had a guy come in completely drunk, he started screaming at everybody and asking people to give him money, and I'm trying to get him out of the store but he refused. Then he sat on chair and slept." 

'If budgets weren't an issue, certainly it would be on our radar'

Police said that while the foot patrol has helped reduce crime, the force can't afford to make the patrol permanent year-round. It would cost about $1 million to extend pay for the 10-14 officers all year.

Ottawa police Insp. Michael Laviolette says that while the summer foot patrol helps reduce crime and gets good reviews from residents, the force can't afford to extend it throughout the year. (CBC News)

"We see a dramatic decrease in the number of issues of vagrancy, petty crimes, so they certainly have an impact in the area. [We get] wonderful feedback from the community, from the business community and from the residents there as well," said Ottawa police Insp. Michael Laviolette.

"In a perfect world, if budgets weren't an issue, certainly it would be on our radar and we would love to see it year-round. But right now we just don't have the resources, and we have to allocate our resources accordingly."

Crime rates also tend to be lower in the winter months, and there are other neighbourhoods with policing needs, Laviolette said.

"We have a whole bunch of other councillors who have their own challenges in their own neighbourhoods, and that's the other piece here, that we have a big city and we have to focus our attention where it's most needed. That's why we have crime analysts, that's why we look at where we need to mobilize our resources, and we do that with the evidence-based approach."

Fleury said he'll keep pushing police to extend the Lowertown foot patrol, and that he's willing to compromise by settling for a smaller team of officers, or by extending the patrols for a few more months instead of all year.