Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Royal pain for police—and residents

By Michael McQuillan, BC Local News

First it was was the theft of his laundry soap from the apartment’s laundry room that drew his attention.
“I was gone for just a few minutes, came back and it was gone,” said the male tenant who asked that his name not be used.
Sgt. Trevor Dudor
Then it was the outdoor drinking parties in the parking lot every Friday night that got him wondering about his decision to move into 101 Royal Ave.
Finally, late last month, there was a police raid where an emergency response team entered two apartment suites, hauled away a 22-year-old man in handcuffs and charged him with weapons and drug trafficking offences.
“I haven’t lived here very long. Had I known there were so many problems, I wouldn’t have moved in in the first place,” he said.
Welcome to 101 Royal Ave., New Westminster’s crime central for apartment buildings.
112 incidents in a year
The June 27 police raid was just one of an estimated 112 incidents over the last year where New Westminster Police Service were called to the 48-unit apartment building.
Of all the problem buildings in New Westminster, 101 Royal tops the list by far.
And police and city hall have so far been unable to make the neighbourhood safer.
“There’s a real assortment of calls to this building,” said Insp. Laurin Stenerson, who heads up NWPS’s support services.
The ERT incident was one of the more extreme calls, admits Stenerson. Most calls are the nuisance variety—loud parties, fights, drunkenness and drug use—but still a drain on the department’s resources.
“Kicking in two suites is not typical,” he said.
The raid last month set off alarm bells among NWPS and New Westminster city hall.
“It’s obvious this situation hasn’t been working. We’re frustrated and now it’s time to be a little bit harder,” said Stenerson of the city’s and NWPS’s current enough-is-enough approach.
Neighbours concerned
Police and the city aren’t the only ones who want the apartment building cleaned up. Neighbours say living beside the apartment is like experiencing a war zone.
One neighbour, who recently spoke about the problem at a council meeting, said they witnessed a stabbing in front of their home, found an overdosed girl lying in their driveway, were chased into their home by a tenant’s pit bull, witnessed drug deals and had their parked car struck twice.
New West’s licensing and enforcement manager Keith Coueffin can only tell residents the city is doing all it can.
He also explains the problems at 101 Royal Ave. over the last two years are not the norm.
“The majority of problems in buildings are usually dealt with (by the apartment owner or manager) soon after the city issues simple orders or holds a meeting with them,” said Coueffin, part of the Housing Integrated Service Team, which deals with problematic rental properties.
Unfortunately the city and police strategy has yet to make a noticeable difference to the neighbours. And the apartment building continues to be a headache for Coueffin’s team, composed of city staff and police officers.
Since opening a file on the building, meetings have been held with the owner, more than $3,000 has been billed to the owner for police nuisance calls after a nuisance abatement order was issued, special conditions have been placed on his business licence and the building is routinely inspected and orders issued for repairs.
“Our approach has been quite successful over the last 10 years. But in a small number of cases we have to proceed to the higher level,” said Coueffin.
Seeking a solution
That will likely mean more enforcement by police and the city as well as tougher penalties for non-compliance.
But that’s not the solution they’re after. They’d rather get the apartment manager to police his own building by getting involved with programs like New Westminster’s crime-free multi-housing (CFMH).
The initiative has a good track record when dealing with problem properties. Since its inception in 1995, police calls to CFMH buildings decreased by 20 to 70 per cent after the program was implemented.
CFMH helps fight crime by educating owners and managers on how to screen prospective tenants, make a building safer, work with police and other proactive steps.
One of the most important components of the program is apartment managers knowing who they’re renting to, said Coueffin. By attracting the wrong tenants, its only a matter of time before the good ones start to leave as things get worse.
New Westminster was the first city in Canada to start a CFMH program.
• The NewsLeader was unable to contact the owner of 101 Royal Ave., listed as Terry DeBonis in a July 12 city staff report.

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