Vancouver police renewed their concern Thursday about what they described as “the deteriorating level of public safety” in the tent-occupied Oppenheimer Park in the Downtown Eastside.
Emergency calls to the park increased by 87 per cent from June to August when compared to the same period last year, said police in a news release.
“Since the beginning of the year, there has been a significant spike in crime and street disorder stemming out of Oppenheimer Park, and sprawling into the Downtown Eastside,” said Deputy Chief Howard Chow, who has regularly been posting photos on Twitter of weapons seized in the Downtown Eastside.
Weapon seized off of a person in the #DTES. We’re seeing a number of individuals with hatchets tucked into their waistband. #notcamping #anotherdayonthejob #makingourstreetssafer #enoughalready #anotherweaponoffthestreet pic.twitter.com/j5NzrsOLJ5
— Howard Chow (@DeputyChow) September 18, 2019
— Howard Chow (@DeputyChow) September 15, 2019
“We are seeing a substantial increase in violent crime, and officers have seized a significant amount of weapons, including firearms,” added Chow.
So far this year, police have seized 453 firearms in Vancouver. Almost half — 223 — were seized in the policing district that includes Oppenheimer Park and the Downtown Eastside.
Police said 17 weapons were seized in Oppenheimer between June and August. In the wider area of the Downtown Eastside, which the department’s beat enforcement team patrols, a total of 476 weapons were seized over the same three months.
Photos and a video released by the VPD Thursday show a variety of weapons, including handguns, rifles, bats, bear spray, swords and a pellet gun that resembles an assault rifle.
“We first raised this issue publicly in July, and it has only gotten worse,” Chow said.
“In my 30-plus years with the VPD, I have never seen such high numbers of weapons seized in one district alone. The numbers almost average out to one gun each day so far this year. I am also very concerned about the high levels of aggression we are seeing towards police.”
Assaults in the policing district have increased from 19 last year to 32 this year. This past weekend, patrol officers had bystanders throw bottles at them as they responded to a call in Oppenheimer Park.
Police also said gangs are vying for territory in the park, “which is creating a dangerous and volatile situation for residents in the park and surrounding area.”
The most recent count from city officials estimated 40 homeless people remained in the park. The park board’s response has been to reject an injunction to clear the park and instead call on the city to create a multi-jurisdictional task force on homelessness.
In 2014, the city successfully sought an injunction to remove people from the park and place the majority in a former hotel and in shelters.
Police arrested five people but no one was charged.
More recently, Mayor Kennedy Stewart has requested the park board temporarily cede jurisdiction of the park to the city.
That would give the city an ability to seek an injunction, although the mayor has only stated he has a plan for the park that may or may not include seeking an injunction.
Park board chairperson Stuart Mackinnon and two other commissioners have said they wouldn’t support giving the city temporary jurisdiction over the park.
“Simply removing people from Oppenheimer Park, which may force them onto the streets, back lanes and into other parks is not the solution,” Mackinnon said at a Sept. 6 news conference.