Work to deter crime lauded, but more officers required, businesses say
Water Street is lined with vehicles on a typical day. Businesses in the downtown have made it known they would like to see more police presence in the area, particularly in the evenings. — Telegram file photo
When the NaturaL Boutique was robbed last week by two men who calmly took a sealskin coat from a rack and simply ran out the door, a shop owner on the other end of Water Street could sympathize.
Andrew Corbett, owner of Maverick Sports and Collectables, had the same thing happen to him just a few days before. A person walked in the store, took a couple of hockey jerseys off the rack, and bolted out the door. There was a car waiting, and the thief left in the waiting car. Previously, someone broke in through the front window early one morning and made off with sets of sports cards.
Despite the thefts, Corbett said, he largely feels safe.
“There’s certainly a questionable element in the evening sometimes, but during the daytime, for the most part, it’s pretty safe down here,” he said. “We haven’t had a lot of trouble. Where we’re a smaller space, I can kind of keep an eye on it.”
Police were able to recover the cards stolen in the break-in when they caught up with the burglar on Duckworth Street, but the jerseys taken in the daylight theft are gone. Corbett says the visible presence of police on the streets is enough to deter thefts.
“I like it in the summer where they’ve got even the police horse and the officer going along for show. Yes, it’s good for tourists, but it also has a little bit of a presence down here,” he said. “In my area down here, there’s always police over by Atlantic Place, with the courts. There probably could be a little bit more in the evenings, just a car going by once in a while.”
The co-owners of the NaturaL Boutique expressed concerns about police response time; the theft happened at 5:30 p.m. on April 24, and the RNC didn’t come to the store until 11 a.m. the next day. The RNC said calls are prioritized, and it was informed the manager of the store wasn’t returning until then. Co-owner Jennifer Shears told The Telegram she’s happy with the work that police officers do, but she worries they’re overworked and understaffed. That sentiment is shared by other downtown merchants.
Chris Andrews — who recently became co-owner of Erin’s Pub — said an increased presence is needed, especially on the weekends.
“It’s a changing city,” he said. “I do understand why it took so long for the police to get to that robbery, because there’s so many major things going on in the city now.It’s unfortunate that stuff like that gets put to the bottom of the pile.”
Andrews said he feels his business is secure — but due to his staff’s efforts.
“Pretty much, but only because we do make it ourselves. It’s not about being in ‘beautiful St. John’s’ anymore. It’s still beautiful, still gorgeous, but it’s changed, and if you’re not vigilant yourself…” he said.
“You’ve got to make sure you don’t keep a lot of cash on hand, and you’ve always got to have a couple people around. It’s a changing scene, for sure.”
Andrews said police do an excellent job with the resources they have.
“It’s not their fault. There’s just not enough of them to keep up with what’s going on,” he said.
David Bowden, owner of Post Espresso Bar, hasn’t been robbed in the year and a half his coffeeshop has been open. He’s seen glass broken in nearby shops, though, and despite sometimes feeling a little nervous about what he might find on a Sunday morning when he opens the shop, he feels secure downtown.
“I definitely feel very safe,” he said. “I think the community of shopkeepers, we all kind of try to keep an eye on each other, and it’s good to know what there’s people here in the nighttime. The restaurants are open a bit later than us, so I feel like they’ll keep an eye out for things.”
RNC deputy chief Bill Janes told The Telegram that significant provincial investment over the past decade has allowed the police
to respond to the needs of the community, and reiterated — in regards to the NaturaL Boutique robbery — police respond on a “priority basis.”
“We received a call at 5:30 and the store closed at 6,” he said. “We do do a review of these matters, and whenever there’s a complaint, people can go to the police complaints commission. And in cases like this, we’ll do a review of the file anyway to make sure we’re providing the service that we should.”
Janes said he’s confident police have sufficient resources to respond to the calls they receive every day.
“We also use an intelligence-led policing system, where we look at time of day, locations of crime, suspects of crime, and we direct our focus in those areas, rather than being reactionary all the time. We look at crime patterns and we try to focus on these areas and we’ve had a lot of success in that respect.”
Janes said he sympathizes with crime victims, but notes a Telegram survey last fall noted most respondents rated their satisfaction with police at seven out of 10 or higher.
“I think that survey that you guys did last October generally speaks to the fact that we still live in one of the best provinces in the country, one of the safest countries in the world. If you compare St. John’s to other cities in Canada, there are 90 cities in Canada with a population of 100,000 that have a higher violent crime rate than we do,” he said.
“So we still live in a wonderful place, a safe place.
“Unfortunately, we’re still going to have victims of crime that are going to feel that shock and anger and feeling unsafe afterwards, but I think it’s fair to say from the front-line perspective, the response perspective, that we have the resources to respond.”