The chairperson of an advocacy group for safety in downtown bars and nightclubs says he will continue to lobby for security cameras on the Granville Street strip despite city council’s decision last week to reject the technology.
Curtis Robinson of Bar Watch said he was disappointed by council’s May 2 decision not to implement the cameras but said his organization will not give up on pushing for a security measure that it believes will make the streets safer.
“We are going to continue to press for CCTV for Granville Street,” said Robinson, a retired Vancouver police officer who helped found Bar Watch with the VPD and longtime bar owner John Teti. “It’s my understanding that the hardware [from the 2010 Winter Olympics] is still there, and I think we will see this, maybe not in the immediate future, but certainly as time goes on.”
Robinson made a plea to council in February to set up security cameras on Granville Street. He was joined by the family of Kalwinder Thind, a 23-year-old man who was murdered Jan. 27 outside the Cabana Lounge in the 1100-block Granville Street.
The family also requested cameras be set up on the strip, agreeing with Robinson the technology would prevent further violence and deaths, and may have helped catch Thind's killer. VPD statistics show the Granville Street and Gastown entertainment districts saw 590 reported fights in 2017.
The pleas from Thind’s family and Robinson were in support of a motion NPA Coun. George Affleck introduced to request cameras for Granville, as well as implement a series of changes to the city’s liquor policy, a redesign of the street and develop strategies for late-night transit and transportation options.
Council made its decision May 2 after receiving a lengthy memo from deputy city manager Paul Mochrie that recommended security cameras not be installed on the strip. The recommendation was based on research questioning the effectiveness of cameras reducing violence and privacy concerns related to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
“I’m not a huge believer in the fact that it doesn’t deter violent crime,” said Robinson, noting cameras installed inside bars more than a decade ago have deterred violent crime inside bars. “I think [the city] is more worried about the privacy angle of this more than anything. And I personally think that’s ridiculous because there is no privacy in public anymore.”
In making a decision, Affleck and the rest of council didn’t directly vote for or against security cameras but unanimously approved a series of new bylaws for the Granville strip, including adding licensed patios, allowing live music after 1 a.m. and allowing non-profits, art dealers and galleries to sell and serve alcohol to customers up to 11 p.m.
Council’s hope is that modernizing the city’s liquor policy will make the Granville strip safer and more diverse. Implementing a “nightlife council” and supporting the “Good Night Out” program to prevent harassment and assaults are other measures. Increasing fines for fighting on the strip is also being considered.
Affleck said he was disappointed council didn’t go ahead with cameras, but was encouraged by his colleagues’ support for the new bylaws. He didn’t push again for cameras at last week’s meeting, saying Mayor Gregor Robertson and the Vision Vancouver councillors made it clear in February they wouldn’t support cameras.
The estimated cost to install 25 cameras and two recorders along Granville from Drake to West Georgia streets is $398,475. Additional costs for administration, audits and data storage were mentioned in the memo but no dollar figure was provided.
As Robinson noted, the memo pointed out that 19 late-night bars and nightclubs have security cameras as a condition of their business licence. However, the cameras are focused on the property, not the public realm.
The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and VPD have supported the use of cameras, although the department is concerned it doesn’t have the resources to monitor footage, store data or respond to Freedom of Information requests.
Mochrie’s memo cited several studies, including one in Britain that reviewed 14 case studies and concluded that “while [closed circuit television] cameras produced a statistically significant reduction of crime in car parks, they had a non-significant impact on crime in city centres.”
Various other studies from Sweden and the United States showed similar results, with authors of a report that evaluated security cameras in Baltimore, Chicago and Washington D.C. concluding “surveillance cameras alone are not enough to prevent crime…cameras are only as good as the way in which they’re integrated into the larger strategy of policing and public safety.”
In B.C., Kelowna, Richmond, Surrey, Terrace and Vernon have either installed or planning to install security cameras. The move by these municipalities prompted Drew McArthur, B.C.’s acting information and privacy commissioner, to weigh in on the topic.
“Video surveillance is tempting to local governments,” he wrote in a Feb. 7 letter. “At first blush, it’s an easy way to appear to address public safety issues rather than take on the more difficult challenge of the social ills from which crime arises. But what Richmond, Terrace and Kelowna are ignoring is that for all its monetary and privacy costs, there is little evidence that surveillance works.”
He also referred to studies in Britain, where more than six million cameras—one for every 10 people—have not significantly reduced crime in urban centres.
“Cameras are particularly poor at deterring violent crime, as those acts occur spontaneously and the perpetrators are not concerned with getting caught, on video or otherwise,” McArthur said. “Every blurry image we see on the news of a crime being committed was a crime that was not prevented by video surveillance.”
In a separate letter to city manager Sadhu Johnston in March, McArthur addressed the issue of video used in the 2011 Stanley Cup riot to assist police capture criminals. He disagreed the riot was “a success story” for the use of video to address crime.
“This is nonsensical because it is actually one of the biggest examples of the failure of surveillance as a deterrence,” said McArthur in reference to the massive amount of video of the riot shot by the public, media and businesses. “Every instance of violence and property damage that was captured on surveillance in the Stanley Cup riot is an instance of violence and property damage that was not deterred by surveillance.”
Meanwhile, police continue to investigate Thind’s murder and have not made any arrests.