The Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association is asking Vancouver taxpayers to foot the bill for an expansion of its Downtown Ambassadors program.
The Downtown Ambassadors have patrolled the streets of Vancouver’s city centre since 2000. The DVBIA, an association of local businesses, has paid for the service. According to the DVBIA’s Web site, the Ambassadors are “trained to provide hospitality assistance and crime prevention services”. Patrol persons are recognizable by their bright red shirts.
If approved, the expansion would see the Downtown Ambassador’s activities in Yaletown, the West End, and the downtown core, expanded into other areas of downtown Vancouver. Patrol hours would also be extended, from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., to a 24 hour a day service.
According to the report going before council, the program’s expansion will cost up to $500,000 annually for the area expansion and $237,000 annually for the downtown “night time program” extension.
While many business improvement associations in the city have come out in strong support of the request, groups such as the Vancouver Police Union and the West End Residents Association have questioned the proposal.
Brent Gramby, president for the West End Residents Association, told the Straight that his organization’s concern is transparency. He said that he would rather see the money be spent on policing.
“Even when the BIA was paying for this program, I kind of questioned who they were accountable to,” he said in a telephone interview with the Straight. Gramby also claimed that local residents have not been given enough of a chance to weigh in on the proposal.
“I don’t know what the intention of the program is,” he said. “If the intention is just to give business the capacity to displace homeless people from in front of their stores, I would say, ”˜Whatever money we’re going to spend on this, why don’t we put it into housing?’”
David Jones is a security consultant for the DVBIA. He argued that the Downtown Ambassador’s program has significant community benefits, “not only to businesses but to residents, visitors, and the general public at large.”
Jones acknowledged that concerns had been raised. But he dismissed those of the Vancouver Police Union as a consequence of ongoing contract negotiations, and questioned whether the West End Residents Association even qualified as an “association”.
“Ambassadors assist police in being more effective and the police are a crucial component in partnership with the Ambassadors”, Jones said.
The request for public funding will go before Vancouver City Council on Tuesday (December 11).
Feature article: Private police
City council report: DVBIA Ambassador Program – Funding Proposal for Expansion