Nanaimo City Council will spend $2.28 million more on its policing budget next year and some of the funding will be targeted toward combatting crime downtown.
Nanaimo resident Pat Murphy is among those who support the move. The 82-year-old was volunteering at the Vancouver Island Military Museum in downtown Nanaimo Saturday when he was assaulted.
Murphy said he found a set of stairs by the museum filled with people and he asked them to leave.
“I looked down to one of the people and he produced a knife in his hand, and when I was telling him to put the knife away somebody from down below jumped up and sucker-punched me in the face,” he said.
A nearby security guard called 911 but Murphy’s attackers fled before police arrived.
The Nanaimo RCMP wants council to fund four more officers to help cope with crime in the city’s downtown core. A business association is also on board.
“We need those four officers that we’ll be getting to be committed to the downtown either as the bike patrol or foot patrol officers because we’ve got assaults occurring downtown. We’ve got fires being lit. We’ve got a lot of crime occurring,” said Kevan Shaw, president of Victoria Crescent Association.
But those extra officers come at a cost. With the positions starting April 1, they will cost just over a half-million dollars, part of the extra $2.28 million the city is planning for next year’s police budget. That translates to a 1.8 per cent tax increase for residents.
Within that amount, the city is also poised to increase its RCMP support staff by 15 over the next five years. Seven would start April 1 at a cost of $525,000 for next year.
“The reality is that policing services in this community are stretched and have been for a long time,” said Leonard Krog, Nanaimo’s Mayor.
Also driving up costs is a new federally negotiated union contract with a 2.5 per cent wage increase for next year.
“We’ve been hit with a significant retroactive payment that is unavoidable. Notwithstanding what council was told was an appropriate setting aside of amounts of money to meet this anticipated expenditure the reality is it came in higher. Municipalities across this province are all facing the same burden,” said Krog.
A recent survey found 72 per cent of people living in downtown Nanaimo are afraid to walk by themselves at night.