Vancouver police survey safety in Gastown

Cops say public disorder rising, prominent business owner not so sure

Public disorder such as fights and drunkenness normally seen in the Granville Street entertainment district on weekends has spilled into Gastown, according to a report from the Vancouver Police Department.

The influx of problems to Gastown on weekend evenings likely means the VPD will this year go over its budget dedicated to officers called in to work overtime in the district.

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In order to contain this growing problem, additional liquor callouts are being deployed in Gastown on weekend evenings, said the report that went before the Vancouver Police Board at its meeting this month.

The report comes at the same time the VPD is conducting an online survey via its website to gauge public opinion on the departments increased foot patrols in Gastown.

The survey asks nine questions, including age, gender, how many times a person has visited Gastown on a weekend evening and whether theyve seen an increase in public disorder.

The disorder listed in the survey includes public intoxication, assaults and fights, property damage, drug related offences, property damage and drug activity.

The survey also asks whether the foot patrols have made the respondent feel more safe, less safe or whether theyve noticed any difference at all in how safe they feel in Gastown.

Sgt. Randy Fincham, a VPD media relations officer, said police have noticed an increase in customers from the suburbs frequenting bars and clubs in Gastown on weekends.

Anytime you have a drastic increase in population mixed with the fuel of increased alcohol consumption, youre going to have issues that require a police response, he said.

Sean Heather, who owns nine businesses in Gastown including the Irish Heather on Carrall Street, said he hasnt seen an increase in public disorder in the neighbourhood.

Im surprised to hear that, actually, he said of the VPD report that says the disorder is a growing problem in Gastown. Were seeing an increased police presence but were not seeing an increase in public disorder or any of those kinds of things at all.

But, Heather noted, the latest any of his nine businesses stays open on a weekend is 2 a.m. Some nightclubs in Gastown remain open until 3 a.m. Problems in the Granville entertainment district have historically occurred after 3 a.m.

Heather acknowledged that with several bars and nightclubs in Gastown that fights and public drunkenness do occur but its not unlike any other district devoted to entertainment.

I dont really feel that Gastown has much of a problem, he said, noting gang activity is also not an issue like it is in other parts of the city. We dont see the gangs down here, which is a big thing for us. Weve managed to remain unscathed from that scourge. Everything else sort of seems not as important as gangs.

In February, then-police member Glenn Wong told the Courier the $800,000-plus annual tab for specialized police teams to patrol the Granville entertainment district on weekends continued to drain the VPDs operating budget.

Though police had made some positive steps in reducing crime along the downtown strip, Wong said public drunkenness and violence were commonplace on weekends when bars remain open until 3 a.m.

Wongs hope was that police, the city, the bars and provincial government could work better at getting to the cause of the unruly behaviour.

He suggested the provincial government consider increasing fines for public drunkenness and urinationsuch fines are much higher in Calgaryand cracking down on over serving alcohol to customers.

The VPDs survey will be on its website until Sept. 28.

mhowell@vancourier.com

Twitter: @Howellings

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