The $800,000-plus annual tab for specialized police teams to patrol the Granville entertainment district on weekends continues to drain the Vancouver Police Departments operating budget, says a member of the Vancouver Police Board.
Though police have made some positive steps in reducing crime along the downtown strip, Glenn Wong said public drunkenness and violence are commonplace on weekends when bars remain open until 3 a.m.
It wont get the media attention, most people wont see it but our police see it every weekend, Wong told the Courier after a police board meeting Wednesday.
As a member of the board for more than five years, Wong has joined police along the Granville strip several times to witness the mayhem. He was with police Saturday night.
The police are running from fight to fight, and that night we had seven cops managing about 3,000 people that all come out at once at three oclock in the morning when the bars closed, he said. As a community, do we want to have that behaviour every Friday and Saturday night? On a massive scale, its the Stanley Cup riot, and weve seen what big crowds with lots of alcohol can do. With 3,000 people fuelled with alcohol, of a very similar demographic, it leads to the same kind of behaviour.
The VPD is requesting $826,170 from city council this year to spend on its specialized liquor squads that patrol the Granville strip. The department is asking for an additional $76,160 to continue funding the VPDs firearms interdiction team, which works primarily in the downtown peninsula and focuses on gang members.
The overall $902,000 request does not include the day-to-day costs of patrol officers who regularly work in the district. In the 2011 budget, the polices overall cost for the specialized squads was $894,000.
Its a budgeting drain to us to put that many resources into, frankly, a three-block area, Wong said of the strip dominated by bars and nightclubs along the 900-block Granville Street.
Wongs hope is that police, the city, the bars and the provincial government can work better at getting to the root cause of the unruly behaviour.
He pointed to gains made in implementing summer closures of Granville Street, the polices positive relationship with a bar organization, the polices meet-and-greet strategy with the public and a campaign to combat the number of sexual assaults.
But Wong said the provincial government should consider increasing fines for public drunkenness and urinationtheyre much higher in Calgaryand cracking down on over serving alcohol to customers.
Wong is also concerned the bulk of the polices interaction with drunks are with people from outside of Vancouver, yet the VPD has to pick up the cost.
I cant remember a single instance of a city of Vancouver resident involved in one of these fights, either as a victim or a combatant, he said of the fights hes witnessed during his ride-alongs with police. Im sure its happened, but anecdotally, these are people that are non-Vancouver residents.
The Granville strip become popular with late night bar goers almost a decade ago when then-mayor Larry Campbells administration approved the later closings.
Police noticed the later closings have attracted many patrons from suburban communities, where bars close at 2 a.m. But Mayor Gregor Robertson, who is also chairperson of the police board, isnt prepared to roll back the later closing hours to coincide with closing times in the suburbs.
I dont believe theres one big solution to itits continuing to make changes that reduce the crime and violence, Robertson told the Courier. We want to keep making that progress, and if it stalls then well have to take more dramatic action.
Robertson said he would rely on the VPD to decide on what type of action would be needed to curb the violence and mayhem. He noted the issue of costs will likely arise during budget deliberations over the next month.
Council is expected to finalize the citys overall operating budget March 5. The VPDs overall request is $212 million.