More security coming to downtown St. John's, says safety coalition

George Street, in downtown St. John’s, on Saturday July 11, 2020.
George Street in St. John's is the centre for nightlife in the city, and one of the main areas of concern for the Downtown Safety Coalition. (Paul Daly/The Canadian Press)

More security is coming to downtown St. John's, says safety coalition spokesperson Don-E Coady.

Last summer, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the city of St. John's announced $180,000 in funding to support the Downtown Safety Coalition, made up of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, Downtown St. John's, the George Street Association, Destination St. John's, Hospitality N.L., the provincial government and the city itself.

Coady told CBC News there have been improvements since the announcement, with an increase in private security that will be expanded again this summer.

Coady said funding supported the contracting of Independent Security Services through a three-phase plan.

Phase 1 involved adding secutiry on George Street between July and November. Phase Two expanded the footprint to include Duckworth Street and Water Street. That footprint has been approved for this summer season and for Phase Three.

Coady said reports from the first two phases show an improvement in downtown safety and prevention efforts.

Nightlife dangers

St. John's musician Rowan Sherlock noticed some positive changes since the coalition added more lighting on George Street with more private security on patrol of the famous party street.

"That's been definitely a big plus for us," said Sherlock.

Heading into the busy summer season, Sherlock said the coalition needs to continue what they are doing.

He said musicians faced many dangers a couple years ago, including stolen instruments, being followed and random attacks.

"It all kind of happened around a clustered time. So it started to become quite a concern for us," said Sherlock.

This axe was used to smash through the shatter-proof glass at Natural Boutique on Thursday morning.
This axe was used to smash through the shatter-proof glass at Natural Boutique last year. (Natural Boutique/Facebook)

Despite the coalition's efforts, he has not seen total improvement in the area. He says there is more aggressive panhandling on George Street.

"They're content to be quite pushy," said Sherlock. "You really can't walk from one end of George Street to the other without being, you know, confronted by somebody."

Preventing thefts

Last year, the Natural Boutique on Water Street had its window smashed and merchandise stolen, costing the business $40,000.

The store's owner, Jen Shears, said that despite the efforts from the coalition, break-ins are still happening.

She changed the store's locks and windows, and implemented a "buzz-in" system, to manage who comes in and out of the store.

"It kind of breaks my heart to have to do that. It's probably the toughest call that we've ever needed to make as business owners in terms of who we let in," said Shears.

RNC Const. James Cadigan isn't releasing many details on two bodies found in Conception Bay South on Saturday.
RNC Const. James Cadigan says it's important for the public to report crimes to the police. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

However, while these changes have improved the situation, she said a stronger security presence on the street is needed.

"More security presence is certainly important because I don't think these people would walk in and break into places if there were obvious patrols at every corner," said Shears.

See it, say it

RNC Const. James Cadigan said the RNC sits on the coalition and provides input, but does not receive funding.

Cadigan said the most important thing for the public to do is to report any suspicious activity. He said there have been instances of dangerous events occurring and only being shared on social media, not reported to the RNC.

Last year, Mayor Danny Breen said $80,000 from the coalition's funding will go toward a "see it, say it campaign" to make it easier to report crime in the area.

Cadigan said the RNC started promoting reporting to the police last year.

"We did see a growth in reporting and as a result," said Cadigan, "We were able to detect some behaviours that, you know, were essentially provided with intervention."

Recognizing that not everyone wants to be involved in a police investigation, Cadigan said people can report anonymously to the police.

Addressing addictions, mental health

Last year, Lisa Faye from the St. John's Status of Women Council said she would rather see the funding toward the Downtown Safety Coalition go toward poverty reduction rather than policing.

"When people have a place to call home, when people have a safe roof over their head where they can sleep well at night, that makes a change in everyone's lives," Faye told CBC News at the time.

Both Sherlock and Shears also say that the problem comes down to addressing mental health and addictions.

"Everyone knows that it goes deeper than just the desire to steal," said Shears. "Certainly mental health and addiction treatment needs to be more at the forefront in our society."

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