A woman lays unconscious on the sidewalk.
A frustrated business owner posts a video to social media.
The April 9 incident outside the Finn Hansen Building on 50 Street drew several emergency vehicles, including RCMP. The incident follows complaints by the building’s owner, April Desjarlais, to city council about the wisdom of placing a joint day shelter and sobering centre across the alley from a liquor store. The shelter is also located next door to her building.
The homelessness crisis unfolding in the streets of Yellowknife leaves considerable space for debate over where to best locate the day shelter and sobering centre. But one conclusion is clear: people in Yellowknife are frustrated by what many view as unchecked mayhem downtown, outside the shelter in particular.
It’s been roughly three years since the police enacted a new policy that avoids jailing people for simply being intoxicated. It was an understandable decision. The police, and subsequently the courts, are not the best institutions to deal with addictions.
But when the police adopted this strategy, one of the trade-offs should have been an increase in the number of downtown patrols.
The police are visible right now but let’s face it, the downtown is back in the news again and they’re under pressure.
There needs to be a more co-ordinated approach.
RCMP detachment commander Alex Laporte told city council earlier this month that downtown patrols and community engagement is increasing but what does that really mean?
If it’s driving around in their pick-up trucks and only stopping when they get a call or see trouble, we have long argued that that is not enough — especially, when the weather turns nice and people are outside.
Police have insisted that they do partake in foot patrols but in all do respect, we rarely see them do that and the Yellowknifer office is across the street from the shelter. (Full disclose, we own the building in which the shelter is housed.)
We have also argued for an RCMP storefront location on 50 Street.
Former mayor Mark Heyck once proposed that the city hire its own RCMP officers to patrol the downtown core. This was not necessarily a bad idea although Yellowknife taxpayers would have been left footing the bill for what is really a territorial problem as studies have shown most shelter users are from outside communities.
But a satellite police station on 50 Street would at least increase the RCMP’s visibility in the area, while providing a safe place to go to if people need help or want to report a crime.
One thing is for sure: people are looking to our governments and institutions for some leadership in tackling violence associated with downtown’s social problems.
If RCMP are not at the forefront they may find themselves with no other solution but to return to the old days of picking intoxicated people and putting them in cells.
And that wouldn’t be good for them, the police or anybody else.