Maple Ridge city council is looking at expanding its Community Safety Officer (CSO) program, to allow for staffing 16 hours per day, seven days a week.
The cost will be approximately $300,000 to have the CSOs working more hours. They are focused on the downtown core and the commercial district, and taking on social issues like homelessness, drug addiction, and mental illness.
Currently there are four CSOs, and the team is headed by Chad Cowles, the city’s manager of the community social safety initiative.
Cowles gave a presentation about the success of the initiative Tuesday morning at a city council workshop. Most councillors spoke in favour of the CSO program and the CSSI.
There was support for expanding CSO coverage to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week. Current hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on days when have a.m. and p.m. shifts. Currently, there are no community safety officers working an evening shift on Mondays or Saturdays. There is no coverage on Sundays. There is also no coverage for staff away on vacation or absent due to illness.
City staff presented council with options of adding either two new CSOs at a cost of $198,000 per year, or three CSOs for $292,000. In each option, one of the officers would be a senior CSO. Hiring three officers would 16/7 shifts, and include coverage for vacation and illness.
City staff said they would look to include the new officers in the 2021 budget by using provincial grant funding and reserves, to keep the tax increase at 3.6 per cent.
Coun. Ryan Svendsen spoke in favour of increased staffing options, and said the cost of not doing it exceeds the cost of the new staff.
He also suggested the CSOs could be more visible to the public, with better branding on their vehicles.
Cowles explained his officers are working more closely with police.
“The relationship between bylaw services and the RCMP is strengthening by the day, and I thank acting OIC Mehat for being here today,” said Cowles.
Insp. Wendy Mehat, who recently took over as acting officer in charge of the Ridge Meadows Detachment, told council the city is “really ahead of the game” with the CSSI and support network around it.
Cowles noted there are joint patrols with CSOs and RCMP officers, which have been effective.
“These are foot patrols and both teams will bring two priorities to the foot patrol to be addressed by larger uniformed presence,” explained Cowles, adding they also cooperate on issues such as graffiti investigations and COVID-19 health order enforcement.
Coun. Ahmed Yousef said he is hearing a lot of support for the CSOs.
“The businesses around the downtown area are raving about the responsiveness, above all, of your team,” said Yousef.
Council heard the CSSI strategy is nearing full mobilization, now 85 per cent operational, with most outstanding items requiring collaboration with senior government.
The CSSI Action Plan was endorsed by council in October 2019, and consists of 35 different initiatives, including the Community Safety Officer (CSO) program. Other components of the CSSI that have been enacted include a Safer Streets Bylaw, Nuisance Bylaw, Supportive Recovery Housing Bylaw and the The Lock Out Crime Through Environment Design (LOCTED) program. The latter provides small businesses in the Town Centre with security infrastructure.
Mayor Mike Morden is a big fan of the plan, telling council “I want to franchise our CSSI, and no joke, this thing should be the best practice…”
“Council’s CSSI is working and making a difference in our community,” said Morden. “It is supported by the provincial government and several municipalities are currently looking at evaluating our solution, which is designed to effectively respond to public safety matters and provide people with access to the help they need. We are doing our part and we look forward to working with our federal and provincial partners to carry out some of the remaining elements of our plan.”
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