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Ottawa police outline plans for targeted enforcement in ByWard Market, Rideau Street area

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A focus on "problematic individuals" and the spaces where they congregate will be part of the Ottawa Police Service's new strategy for the ByWard Market this spring.

Police Chief Eric Stubbs told reporters Monday the public will see more officers in certain areas of the neighbourhood.

"We know we have some people there that are creating a lot of victims every day. They're committing a lot of crime," he said. "The public will see us very focused in specific areas to make sure that we are dealing with the areas and the people who are causing the most crime in the ByWard Market."

But it's not just policing that will be taking place. Stubbs said this will be a whole city approach, working with City Hall and other partners to find solutions.

"You're going to see with that neighbourhood operations centre... it is not police-focused. We want this to be a community centre that happens to have the police in it," Stubbs told the Ottawa Police Services Board. "You're not going to see police written all over this building. This is about the community, working with the community to get positive results. But, again, we have that piece of the pie. We want to help, but we've got to protect."

Police say the new Community Outreach Response and Engagement Strategy, which includes stepped up enforcement, is a "central element" of its plan to improve safety for residents, tourists and businesses in the downtown core. The plan also includes opening a new neighbourhood operations centre in the Rideau Centre at the end of May. Stubbs said that once the operations centre is open, that's when new programs will be officially launched.

"The CORE Strategy is a comprehensive action plan for the safety concerns in Ottawa's Byward Market and Rideau Street corridor," says a report for the Ottawa Police Services Board.

"It is focused on sustainable prevention, deterrence, and enforcement solutions, and marks a shift from reactive policing to 2 proactive management of community issues."

Police say there are five interconnected initiatives as part of the CORE strategy. The five initiatives are:

  • Neighbourhood Operations Centre in the Rideau Centre.
  • An Integrated Community Situation Table that "employs partnerships and community support to provide immediate, coordinated interventions for the most vulnerable, at-risk individuals," the report says,
  • Police targeting hot spots of high crime concentration with increased visibility of law enforcement officers and community partners, "with the intent of deterring crime and improving perceptions of public safety," staff says,
  • Focused enforcement identifying high-harm offenders and directing swift enforcement action to "curtail and deter further offending."
  • A Community Advisory Board to lead the CORE strategy, coordinating efforts across agencies for multi-agency improvements and long-term solutions.

As part of the stepped-up enforcement, police will deploy "intermittent, highly visible patrols" along Rideau Street and in the ByWard Market and Lowtertown, according to the report.

"Specific initiatives include a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) Blitz planned for the late spring," police said. "This will involve the use of data analytics and community partner engagement to identify locations and businesses most affected by crime and social disorder."

Police say they will also conduct "focused enforcement," identifying "repeat high harm offenders" involved in serious and violent crime.

The Integrated Community Situation Table aims to connect people in the area with resources that could help put certain individuals "on a more positive path," Stubbs said.

"Be it getting a house, addictions treatment, mental health interventions, to try to manage them more positively," said Stubbs. "And if they refuse some of this treatment, we have to focus on two things, on these specific people as well as the hot spot areas they are drawn to and working out of and committing crimes in that area."

A report for the Ottawa Police Services Board shows hot spots in the ByWard Market and Rideau Street area based on highest Crime Severity Index of primary offences between Feb. 19 and March 17, 2024. (Ottawa Police Services Board/report)

The Ontario government and the city of Ottawa announced a new deal for the city in late March, which included $48 million over three years to address community and public safety. The funding will cover an increase in uniformed police officers in the ByWard Market and on the transit system, along with alternative mental health supports. 

Critics condemn new strategy

Public delegations that spoke at the meeting Monday criticized the CORE strategy and neighbourhood resource operations centre, saying more police in the ByWard Market would only make things worse.

Elizabeth Venczel, a resident of the ByWard Market and a criminology PhD student at the University of Ottawa, said she has several concerns about the plan.

"Language such as 'community safety and wellbeing' and 'a commitment to human rights' is being used to mask the truth that [federal and provincial funding] will go towards policing the ByWard Market, meaning more cops who will surveil, harass, arrest and harm racialized folks, unhoused folks, people with mental health and substance use challenges and other marginalized communities," she said. "This will inevitably lead to these individuals being overpoliced, arrested or worse, simply for existing in this space."

Jeffrey Bradley, another speaker, echoed these sentiments.

"Words like 'prevention' and 'proactive' are used to mask what is actually happening, which is further investment in punishment and co-opting demands for community-based, non-carceral alternatives by claiming to provide mental health services," he said. "The CORE strategy uses nice words, but is code for more cops to police the crisis and criminalize more Ottawa residents who will end up in the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre."

Robin Browne, of 613-819 Black Hub, listed several incidents of the Ottawa Police Service's use of deadly force in recent years, and called police officers a threat to public safety. 

"It's time to start reimagining community safety by shifting money away from the Ottawa police, to things that actually respect people's human rights and keep us all safer," he said.

Board members did not have any questions for the public delegations. 

Police are 'part of the solution': Councillor

Stephanie Plante is the councillor for the area, and says she is glad that there is a plan to improve safety in the ByWard Market.

"It looks like a lot of people are coming together for this project and that's always good news because we know policing is part of the solution. It's not the only solution. We have a lot of solutions we need to get to."

Plante says safety and crime continues to be a main concern for residents in the neighbourhood as well as businesses. "We do know that there has been a request for a more full-community response. We also know that we need to help people as quickly as possible, especially down here where we're having overflow in all of our shelters. So a lot of things need to come together," she said. "It looks like the policing piece is coming together. I am hesitant to say it will be a smashing success, but I have no doubt we will make some progress. We just we need to see how things go in the next couple of weeks and months."

Plante says there are many issues that require more resources in the market and hopes that policing can help support other community groups. "We do have an overconcentration of a lot of things in the ByWard Market, Sandy Hill, Vanier area. And unfortunately, when you have a lot of vulnerable people, you get a lot of people who want to take advantage of them. And so I hope that's the piece that the police will be focused on and we hope our social service providers will come together for the other piece," she said.

"And it seems like a lot of people have decided that something absolutely needs to be done in this area. We know we have 50,000 unique visitors a week during the summertime, maybe tourists, and we want it to be a welcoming place for everyone."

President of the Lowertown Community Association Sylvie Bigras is glad to see with the increase of enforcement comes an increase in support for vulnerable populations. "From the language that I've read and the plans that the police are proposing around this, the language is about collaboration, about partnerships, about support. They say they want to help the vulnerable population better. And I think that they can and will do that. So it's very positive."

Bigras says residents are experiencing a rise in crime in the neighbourhood. "Definitely people are reporting more incidents. And what I don't like is when there is more violence involved too, whether it's stabbings or use of guns. And so that definitely does cause a sense of insecurity for sure. So I think businesses are reporting more break-ins and what not. And the problem is it's not the homeless people really that are causing that."

Bigras hopes the city can address city wide growing concerns of crime. "The bigger picture needs to be tackled by city council, which is each of our 24 wards. And this very large city needs to have ways to help people before they fall." 

--With files from CTV News Ottawa's Leah Larocque and Ted Raymond

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