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Survey finds Victoria residents feel less safe downtown, day or night

Fifty-nine per cent of people told a community survey they felt safe downtown during the day, compared with 73 per cent last year, while only 22 per cent felt safe downtown at night
The chief executive of the Downtown Victoria Business Association says thousands of people go downtown every day and have a great experience, “but what captures the media’s attention is when something negative happens,” fuelling perceptions that downtown isn’t safe. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Residents of Victoria feel less safe downtown both day and night than they did last year, according to a community survey by the Victoria Police Department.

According to survey results provided to the Victoria and Esquimalt Police Board Tuesday night, 59 per cent of people said they felt safe downtown during the day, compared with 73 per cent last year and 64 per cent in 2022, while only 22 per cent of those respondents felt safe downtown at night, down from 26 per cent last year and 24 per cent in 2022.

Asked if they agreed with the statement “I feel safe and taken care of by VicPD,” 62 per cent agreed, down from 69 per cent last year, 13 per cent disagreed, up from 10 per cent last year, and 33 per cent said they were undecided, up from 21 per cent who were undecided last year.

The results came as no surprise to Jeff Bray, chief executive of the Downtown Victoria Business Association.

“The fact that the perceptions of safety downtown are diminishing matches what our businesses are saying with respect to the issues they hear from their customers and clients, which is a greater negative perception of downtown,” he said. “And that is, of course, challenging from a marketing and customer-attraction perspective.”

But Bray suggested the reality is sometimes blurred by the amount of focus on the negative.

“Today, there’ll be 60 successful planes that land at YYJ, but it will not be in the media because there’s not a story there. But if there was an engine leak as a plane is landing, that would probably make the news,” he said. “It’s the same thing with downtown.”

Bray said thousands of people go downtown every day and leave having had a great experience, while hundreds of thousands of tourists will pass through during the summer and rave about the downtown.

“But what captures the media’s attention is when something negative happens. And that does tend to fuel part of the perception issue,” he said. “Of course, there are challenges downtown, but I would say that there is still a bit of a disconnect between the reality of being downtown versus the perception.”

The board was only given a few highlights of the full survey package Tuesday night.

The results, which will be released over the coming weeks by VicPD, were based on 946 responses from 5,000 surveys distributed. There is a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent.

Asked to pick one area for VicPD to focus on, most survey respondents said police should target drug use, followed by homelessness, traffic offences and mental health.

Twenty-three per cent of respondents said the department should run more patrols to deal with problems, while 17 per cent suggested hiring more officers and 15 per cent opted for more crime prevention.

VicPD spokeswoman Cheryl Major said overall, the results are in line with the survey in 2022, noting the margin of error.

“So if we looked at the trend over the last five, or in some cases 10 years, we’re very much in line with consistent numbers,” she said. “There’s absolutely a few places where there’s been some significant changes outside of that margin of error. And those are ones that we’re definitely going to look at a little bit closer and look at what opportunities there might be to either improve our service to the community or improve our perceptions in the community.”

Major said the fact people feel less safe downtown is not a surprise.

“We’ve seen certainly a lot of activity in the downtown core and a lot of concern over feelings of safety in the downtown core,” she said.

VicPD intends to release the full survey with analysis and next steps over the coming weeks.

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