17 Avenue businesses call for help amid uptick in crime

A half-dozen businesses, including Analog Coffee, say an uptick in vagrancy and unnerving incidents along Calgary’s 17 Avenue has them considering hiring private security as a last resort.

We unfortunately do, on a regular basis, have people who are clearly mentally ill or on some drugs who are out and about on the streets and find themselves here at the shop,” Fratello Coffee CEO Chris Prefontaine said. “The tipping point for us, frankly, is that we’ve lost some amazing staff, some people who have had incidents happen while they were on staff here.”

The group wants the city and local business association to help pay for security.

Ward 8 Councillor Evan Woolley says public safety is the responsibility of the city and the Calgary Police Service (CPS), not small businesses.

“There’s a lot of the long-term and immediate work we have to do as a part of our mental health and addictions strategy, but we need lots of presence on these streets in order to have these businesses be successful, and for the neighbourhood to be safe,” Woolley said.

Just blocks away, increased police presence is cutting down on problems around the supervised consumption site at the Sheldon Chumir Centre.

But CPS says it may actually be shifting some of the problems to other downtown neighbourhoods.

“There’s a feeling that we’ve just moved a lot of the social behaviour, so we are addressing that,” Sgt. Todd McNutt said. “We will see an increase with our mobile command centre, along with our mountain bike and beat units.

“We’ll have to address or shift those resources in and amongst those areas equally.”

Businesses have already reached out to police to see what they can do in the meantime.

“They’ve given us some great advice, things we can try to do and implement on-site in our coffee shop, but at the end of the day, there’s only so much we can do,” Prefontaine said.

In the long run, the 17 Avenue businesses, police and the city want to work together to tackle the larger social issue.

“We certainly are not going to be able to arrest our way out of this problem,” McNutt added.

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