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“We don’t have as much teeth,” police say about safety and security issues in the community


Charlottetown residents gathered at Birchwood Intermediate School for a meeting hosted by Charlottetown Police Services to address safety and security concerns – trespassing, public drug use, homelessness – surrounding the Community Outreach Centre and the Park Street Shelter. Photo by Ezra Santana.

About 300 people gathered at Birchwood Intermediate School’s gymnasium to discuss safety and security concerns such as trespassing, theft and public drug use in the Community Outreach Centre and Park Street Shelter area of Charlottetown.

The public meeting hosted by Charlottetown Police Services happened on Tuesday, Sept. 5, and lasted over two hours.

The event was a good step in establishing communication with residents, said Charlottetown resident Daniel Cousins (they/them).

“We know what the solutions are but they’re not in our police services. Our police services are stretched thin as is. There are services in our police services that they are not equipped to or trained to deal with, that they shouldn’t be dealing with but they are,” said Cousins.

Addressing the issues of homelessness and addictions is highly important, but you can’t address addictions without addressing homelessness, said Cousins.

“If you don’t feel safe and secure anywhere, drugs are an escape. That’s a logical want. If your life is hell, you want an escape. If you feel safe and secure, you take steps to better your life. You don’t if you’re just barely surviving,” said Cousins.

Most of those who spoke at the meeting disagreed with Cousins.

“It’s already densely populated. We don’t need more people to not have a home and live on the streets in the centre of cities. They could live outside maybe. There could be some affordable housing, some small housing communities where there’s many small apartments available for people who don’t have anywhere to go. But not in the centre of a city,” said Charlottetown resident Peter Bujold about the Outreach Centre and Park Street Shelter.

There is a need for medical and psychology professionals, not just those who will ‘give people their fix and send them on their way,’ said Bujold.

“Having it downtown was a huge mistake. It’s not rocket science, anyone could have seen this coming,” said Bujold.

Charlottetown Police Services will relocate patrols to highly impacted areas, have ‘zero tolerance’ for trespassing and focus on senior and student safety initiatives, police said.

“We’re not going to arrest our way out of these complex issues. As a police chief I can’t make housing, I can’t give long-term mental health support, I can’t give long-term addiction support. But as a police chief and as police leadership team we’re going to challenge those who can to help us,” said Charlottetown Police Chief Brad MacConnell.

The meeting hosted by Charlottetown Police Services went on for more than two hours and counted with the participation of many residents with comments and questions. Photo by Ezra Santana.

Policing in a time of rapid population growth has been challenging, especially when P.E.I. has the lowest police-population ratio in Canada and calls for service have increased about 32 per cent since 2018, police said.

“That’s just calls for service from the public, that doesn’t include anything proactive from our police service. So it’s been extremely challenging and unfortunately that has put us in a reactive stance on policing, which is not a very favourable stance to have when you have so many real-life challenges to address,” said Chief MacConnell.

At the centre of those calls for service is a spike in mental health calls, police said.

However, the main concerns discussed in the meeting were safety and security issues such as public drug use and property crimes.

At the heart of those issues is the Community Outreach Centre and the Park Street Shelter, with the Outreach Centre representing about 3.7 per cent of the calls for service in 2022.

“That’s a lot for one place and surrounding neighbourhoods,” said Chief MacConnell.

The Park Street Shelter, however, only represented about 0.1 per cent of the calls.

Those numbers have increased in about 2 per cent each this year.

Drug charges are enforced by federal law and in August 2020, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) issued a directive asking federal lawyers to avoid prosecution in simple drug possession cases unless there are major public safety concerns and to pursue only the most serious cases, police said.

“It’s made a very difficult position for police services because it is undermining people’s confidence in us,” said Chief MacConnell.

Holding this meeting was important to give the public a voice to talk about some of the issues police know are happening in the community, said Cpl. Keizer.

“You’re hearing the frustration of the public right now and we’re frustrated because we want to do more. I don’t think it’s right that people don’t feel safe in their homes at all,” said Cpl. Keizer.

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My name is Ezra (they/them) and I’m an aspiring storyteller who is half-way through a Journalism and Communications program at Holland College, P.E.I. 

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