Almost half of the guns seized by Vancouver police so far this year were found in Oppenheimer Park and the Downtown Eastside.
In other words, 223 of the 453 firearms seized within the city were found in the homeless camp at the park and surrounding neighbourhoods, police said in a release on Thursday.
Police intelligence also indicates gangs are vying for territory within the park.
“Since the beginning of the year, there has been a significant spike in crime and street disorder stemming out of Oppenheimer Park, and sprawling into the Downtown Eastside,” said Deputy Chief Const. Howard Chow.
“We are seeing a substantial increase in violent crime, and officers have seized a significant amount of weapons, including firearms.”
Chow said the numbers work out to almost an average of one gun seized per day.
“In my 30-plus years with the VPD, I have never seen such high numbers of weapons seized in one district alone,” he said, adding that he is concerned about high levels of aggression toward police.
Assaults against police officers in the district have gone up by 68 per cent compared to 2018 – from 19 incidents to 32.
This past weekend, bystanders threw bottles at officers as they were responding to a call in the park.
Earlier in July, police expressed concern about the deteriorating level of public safety in the area when an officer was kicked in the knee as she tried to remove a man who had jumped onto a garbage truck. A 31-year-old man was also found with a gunshot wound near Powell Street and Jackson Avenue.
Overall, emergency calls for police to the park increased by 87 per cent from June to August, compared to last year.
The City of Vancouver issued an eviction notice on the morning of Aug. 19 to more than 200 homeless people residing at the park. They were told to clear out by 6 p.m. on Aug. 21.
Less than half of the people living at the camp agreed to leave by mid-afternoon, even as the deadline to leave the park was approaching.
On Sept. 4, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said he wanted the Park Board to temporarily transfer jurisdiction of the park over to the city. In turn, Park Board Chair Stuart Mackinnon requested that the mayor outline how transferring jurisdiction of the park would enable a return to normal operations.
Mackinnon further announced on Sept. 6 that the Park Board would not seek an injunction to evict people from the park. He made the announcement at a press conference, also requesting the formation of a multi-jurisdictional task force on homelessness.
Tent city liaison Chrissy Brett told Black Press Media she believes safety concerns expressed by police are a Downtown Eastside issue rather than a park issue.
“When I, as a grandma with absolutely no weapons, can stay half the week [in the tent city] … how is it they can characterize this place as being so scary?” she asked.
“Oppenheimer has always been a place where … people have felt at home.”
Brett said she is working with the Park Board on the multi-jurisdictional task force initiative, and invited the mayor and police to also join and “discuss everyone’s safety,” including campers.
Black Press Media has also reached out to Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart for comment.