A dozen new regional hubs where police, prosecutors and probation officers work together to tackle repeat violent offenders will operate around the province starting next month, Premier David Eby said Wednesday. Hubs will be located in Nanaimo and Victoria, along with Vancouver, Surrey, New Westminster, Abbotsford, Kamloops, Kelowna, Cranbrook, Williams Lake, Prince George and Terrace.
The uptick in violent incidents by repeat offenders is “unnerving for many and is completely unacceptable,” Eby said, speaking in front of Nanaimo’s courthouse, where he made the announcement alongside a team of cabinet ministers.
Hubs “will work together to monitor cases involving prolific offenders from investigation through the court process to strict community supervision,” Eby said.
The focus will be on prolific offenders, and services will be made available for those ready for that kind of support, he said. “If you need support to break the cycle of offending, it will be available to you.”
In addition, a new Special Investigation and Targeted Enforcement program will have $16 million in funding over three years for investigations of cases involving repeat violent offenders, and to improve information-sharing between police agencies.
Nanaimo council and residents have been calling for more help to deal with increasing violence in the community that’s left many afraid to go downtown. Citizen rallies began last fall calling for tougher enforcement in the city.
Business owners face repeated vandalism and break-ins, and the 49-year-old owner of a Nanaimo vehicle repair shop was recently shot while trying to retrieve stolen property from an encampment. A 37-year-old man faces a charge of pointing a firearm without lawful excuse in connection with the shooting.
At one downtown restaurant, frequent attacks on the building have prompted the owner and a supporter to sleep overnight to help protect the property, police said.
A group of about 50 Nanaimo residents greeted the provincial officials with signs expressing their frustration: “Fed up victims,” “Keep in custody,” and “Jail violent offenders.”
The premier, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth, Attorney General Niki Sharma, and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Macolmson met with Nanaimo city council Wednesday.
The provincial contingent also rode in Car 54 — where a police officer and registered nurse together respond to urgent cases involving mental health and substance abuse — to get a first-hand look at local problems
Sharma said that she wants people in Nanaimo and around the province to know: “We hear you and we are taking action.”
Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog said the situation on Nanaimo’s streets is the result of decades of failed social and health policies.
“I heard a commitment this morning from the premier, which I gratefully accept on behalf of the city, that this government will work with the city to ensure that not only our streets are safe, that our citizens are health and protected and cared for…”
It’s not a happy, healthy community when people continue to suffer in the streets and criminal acts disturb and frighten residents, he said.
Karen Kuwica, president of the Newcastle Community Association, said she was encouraged that judges and prosecutors will now have an individual’s full criminal history in front of them when they review a case.
Farnworth also announced $75,000 to support existing initiatives in Nanaimo, such as the city’s community safety action plan and situation tables involving a variety of organizations.
While she’s happy to see the efforts, how it all “actually trickles down to changing things” has yet to be seen, Kuwica said.
Kevan Shaw, president emeritus of the Victoria Crescent Business Association, said the citizen rallies kicked up enough of a storm to get the province to turn its attention to Nanaimo.
But Jovonne Johnson, executive director of Risebridge centre, which runs warming centres — now closed for the season — and outreach programs, said the province is putting too much emphasis on policing and incarceration rather than on prevention programming. Johnson said she had hoped to see tangible solutions to address mental health and addiction problems.
“We know from our clients who we work with that when they go into jail, they actually come out with a lot more mental health and addiction challenges.”
Homelessness is also increasing, Johnson said, with 92 new faces counted in the past two weeks.
The provincial initiatives follow other recent announcements from the province, including dedicating more money to tackle mental health and addictions, hiring 250 more RCMP officers, and cracking down on unexplained wealth.
“We know there is much more to do,” Eby said. “These actions will help fight the criminal activity that fuels the toxic drug crisis and the violence on our streets.”