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"Ever wonder if City Council is as contentious and chaotic as it is sometimes portrayed? Here you can get a progressive perspective on some of the issues from someone who spent four years in the trenches. Totally unbiased, though! Feel free to comment but keep it respectful, just like they do at council."

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Eyes on the street and the budget

Reason also prevailed on the issue of cameras in Old East Village.

This recommendation from the Community and Neighbourhoods Committee was introduced by Steven Orser. He had made the original request to council and had driven the debate at the committee. The committee chair, Harold Usher, together with Councillor Matt Brown, had opposed the recommendation that this initiative should have guaranteed funding in the budget and not be subject to the normal budget processes.

In particular, Orser didn’t want the Services Review Committee (SRC) to be in the position of evaluating it along with other items on the council wish list. This was clear in the motion he placed before council, namely that "the Civic Administration BE DIRECTED to identify a Source of Financing for the installation of a wireless surveillance system" at four intersections along Dundas Street between Rectory and Adelaide Streets and, "subject to the availability of a source of funding," install them.

For Orser, it was a matter of simply putting it in the budget without the scrutiny of the SRC, Just do it. The Old East Business Improvement Association (BIA) and the newly-formed East London Merchants Organization (ELMO) wanted it. What is $40,000 in a billion dollar budget? In any case, could the costs of monitoring the cameras be handled by current staff?

Dave O’Brien, head of security at city hall, pointed out that there was the cost of the actual equipment, estimated at $100,000 and the maintenance of the equipment at $40,000 yearly; there was no provision for monitoring the cameras. That would be done along with the monitoring of the 16 other cameras in the downtown area. In response to Orser’s question about the effectiveness of cameras in preventing crime, O’Brien acknowledged that cameras hadn’t necessarily affected the crime rate but was useful in aiding police investigations.

Within minutes of this assertion, there was a message on Twitter from someone who noted that she had been assaulted in the vicinity of the cameras but, on reporting the incident to the police, was informed by them that the cameras were useless. Referring to the supporters of cameras, she tweeted, “Wait until THEY'RE disappointed when the cameras don't help stop or identify perpetrators of crime.”

One such supporter is Councillor Bill Armstrong. He was happy to lend his voice to the clamour for cameras; he only hoped that he would get support in the future when he came forward with a request for more of them further east on Dundas in his ward.

Nor was Orser dissuaded by learning what had already been stated in previous reports to council, that cameras do not prevent crime. Helping police with their investigations could free police for other activity such as foot patrols, he asserted. It wouldn’t lower the police budget, but how that budget was used. He didn’t add that police were already asking for a $4.1M increase in a time of council endorsed tax freezes. 

“Give some positive hope to the community,” he urged. “Find the money tonight.”

Nancy Branscombe chairs the SRC. It was her motion four years ago that led to the formation of SRC when council was struggling with ways to get a better handle on budgeting and not simply cutting and adding budget items at random. She has been the chair of that committee ever since and it has done a mountain of pre-budget work, reviewing the services, understanding what contribution they make to the quality of life in London, what works and what doesn’t, how to do things more efficiently. In fact, the City of London has been selected as one of five finalists for the prestigious IPAC/Deloitte Public Sector Leadership Awards for its service based approach. The final presentations are being held today.

So it’s no wonder that Branscombe did not take kindly to the suggestion that council return to the old ways, everybody pick a favourite project and lobby to have it added to the budget, never mind the overall picture or measurable benefits the project brings. She wanted it referred to Services Review so that it could be properly vetted as part of a long wish list. She wanted to ensure that any budget decisions would be based on an integrated approach to dealing with public safety, one that involved Community and Social Services. Matt Brown quickly seconded the motion.

A referral takes precedence over the main motion, so now the debate shifted focus. Orser was more than a little annoyed.

“And will the committee have a quorum for once?” he wanted to know. “This is ridiculous!”

Back when I sat on the SRC there were frequent problems with getting a quorum because some members were clearly boycotting it, not turning up and yet unwilling to resign. Those members, with the exception of Paul VanMeerbergen and Bud Polhill, are no longer on council and VanMeerbergen is no longer on the committee. Getting a quorum isn’t as difficult as it used to be.

Paul Hubert serves on both the Old East BIA and the SRC. He was impressed with the BIA and the dedication of its membership to the community. He also noted the progress being made in that area and the investment there. He estimated that it was in the neighbourhood of $115 million. It was really being revitalized. That kind of investment and revitalization requires careful protection. The proliferation of cameras could quickly eat up a half million dollars or more. He wanted to make sure that it was the right approach, that it was properly integrated with other initiatives going on. “Let’s make sure we do this right,” he urged. He wanted it referred.

Joni Baechler found herself in a quandary. She didn’t want to support a referral but she didn’t want to be misunderstood as being in support of more cameras on the street. “I have never supported cameras,” she began. “This whole homeland security stuff has the hair standing up on the back of my neck.” She recalled a visit by Jane Jacobs at Western before cameras had been installed downtown. When asked about cameras, Jacobs had called them a band aid; what you need are people in the downtown.

That initial project cost $250,000, Baechler pointed out, and maintaining them $130,000 per year. Now Armstrong was lobbying for them; who else would be lining up? If anything, she would rather have more police officers patrolling than big brother watching.

Orser jumped on her words. “I never thought I’d hear Joni want to increase the police budget,” he taunted. Baechler has always asked critical questions about the police budget but she has never voted against it.

By now, the acting mayor Bud Polhill should have intervened. Just because Orser had introduced the motion didn’t mean he could argue with everyone who spoke; all he should have been allowed to do was to provide clarification or a direct response to questions. But chairing is not Polhill’s strong suit.

Orser was frustrated. A delay was not what he wanted. He demanded that the members of the SRC set a meeting date "right now" to deal with this issue.  When it was pointed out that there were a lot of items already on the next SRC agenda, he gave up.

“Defeat the referral,” he implored. “Send it to the budget process.” He was not comforted by having it pointed out that the budget process involved going through SRC first.

Sandy White wondered if there was any way to bypass the SRC. Branscombe, on a point of information, explained what Services Review is. She noted that getting a quorum was a thing of the past, although I have observed that some members tend to be a bit on the tardy side.  

The explanation seemed to be lost on Orser. He wondered if council could order Services Review not to cut it (the cameras) from the budget. He was reminded that SRC is a committee made up of councillors; all they can do is make a recommendation. Each councillor has a vote when those recommendations come to council.

“It’s like no one here has ever been in the Old East,” he despaired.

Several councilors took offence, as well they might. Members of staff and council attend meetings of the BIA there, go to the Aeolian Hall and the Palace Theatre, shop in the hardware store, buy vacuum cleaners at McHardy’s, eat in the excellent ethnic restaurants. Staff and council have worked hard to attract and maintain investment in that area—seniors’ housing, highrises, condos, the theatres, the Potters’ Guild.

Yes, there are problems there, as there are in many areas of London; problems of poverty and all the ills that accompany it. They won’t be solved by four cameras or even four more police officers. That takes a far more holistic approach.

It was time to vote. The motion to refer the request for cameras passed 8-6 with Joe Swan, Branscombe, Baechler, Matt Brown, VanMeerbergen, Hubert, Usher and Bryant in support and Polhill, Armstrong,  Orser, Dale Henderson, Denise Brown and White opposed.

We’re likely to hear more about this when it goes to Services Review and from there to the budget.


Anonymous said...

Orser's behavior is reminiscent of a full-fledge blow tempertantrum my 2 year old sibling threw in the grocerystore when he wanted sugar-coated junk cereal and wouldn't take no for answer. Inorder to make him settle down and not disturb the peace of all the customers and staff, and potentially cause bodily harm to himself and damage to the shopping cart with his kicking and shaking and against her better maternal judgment in providing healthy food at an affordable price, she bought the cereal. He ate the cereal and I don't think it's a great leap in judgment to asscociate it with the fact that soon into his early years of continuous learning Ritlan was recommended.
Steven Orser, please, just settle down and open your mind so you can learn from others wisdom.
The LPS concider everyone in the eye of the camera as "persons of interest". They don't differeniate between victims and witnesses. If an offense has occurred between two adults they concider both parties to be involved in a conscentual conflict and unless one of the parties files a formal complaint then no crime has been committed, there's nothing to investage, becasue their role is to gather evidence for trial. If a trial and conviction is unlikely to occurr they don't bother wasting their resources.
One of my son's had injuries that appeared to be the result of four assailants, chainmark bruising around his neck, bicycle tire marks across his chest and two different boot tread patterns on his face and head. This happened on the corner of Dundas and Richmond Street when he was on his way to the ATM at the Bank of Nova Scotia. At the time there was already a police presence including a paddywagon.
The police didn't investigate because he didn't complain. When I was watching his head swell and praying by his beside in the emergency triage department a uniformed officer did come in but she only took statements from victims of car accidents inorder to assist the insurance companies adjusters determine a settlement.
He couldn't complain. When he regained consciousness his jaw was wired shut and obviously he had a wee bit of trouble remembering what happened, infact he'll probably never be able to recall the actual assult, as it would appear, and probably does on the survailance camera, that he was jumped from behind. One thing he seemed quite determined to tell us, struggling to hold a pen and write a note..."they were just kids!"...they were just kids, rumoured to be on a weekend pass from the bluewater detention center coming into town to attend an all-ages dance party at the Pandemic and the police had prior knowledge of their intentions to committ mayhem.
If someone has a problem with policing they need to go down to the copshop and file a CAD...that's a Complaint Against Department, and good luck with that eh, the frontline deskworkers aren't always co-operative or even knowledgeable.

Roderic Brawn said...

I would love to know what the average police officer does in a day. If they are not patrolling the streets in areas like Old East, or the Dundas East area, what are they doing? The question, I suppose, is an edition Jane Jacobs' "Why do we need the cameras?" I can tell you this, that when I would work as a busker playing my trumpet at Richmond and Dundas, that was when I mostly met members of our constabulary, who would come to ask me to move along when a nearby resident called them.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like Council had a Diogenes'lamp moment. Two rational, fact based decisions in one meeting!

But you say the mayor wasn't there.


anon one

Anonymous said...

Orser has never let facts get in the way of getting publicity. He learned that from his "mentor" Joe Fontana.

Anonymous said...

If the London Police Service can't stop drug deals at the corner of Adelaide and Dundas, what good are cameras? The only solution is community policing, a few officers on foot patrol along Dundas won't cut it.