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Calgary's Downtown Safety Leadership Table outlines 28 recommendations in final report

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Calgary's Downtown Safety Leadership Table has released its final report outlining dozens of ways to make the core safer.

Following seven months of consultations with more than 45 community groups and a survey of 350 respondents, the group gave 28 total recommendations in the report, released on Wednesday.

The Downtown Safety Leadership Table notes that it has identified key barriers, opportunities and solutions to address real and perceived safety issues.

The completely volunteer-driven report came at no cost to taxpayers and feature four themes, including: government response, strategic communications, community collaboration and specialized initiatives.

Each category mentions short-term goals that can be accomplished within a year, and system impact focusses that will take three years or more.

A full list of the recommendations can be found on the City of Calgary website, but some of the highlights include endorsements to immediately repair downtown streets, benches and fire hydrants, while also cleaning and washing public spaces.

Mark Garner, co-chair of the Downtown Safety Leadership Table and executive director of the Calgary Downtown Association, says his team's goal also features plans to improve access to services for those experiencing homelessness, enhancing police presence downtown and reviewing the current feasibility of the Plus-15 network.

"We need to provide dignified and safe access to all populations in need, regardless of barriers, background and social issues," Garner said.

"Strategic communication is also identified as a 'quick win' to develop coordinated and secure data compilation and a sharing platform between key partners that remove silos, supports coordinating services planning and allows analysis and trends or emerging issues for better public communication."

Table co-chair Heather Morley, the executive director of Inn From the Cold, also touched on recommendations to improve the coordination of policing and enforcement services through technology advancements that allow deployment of the right services to the right situation.

Another short-term recommendation is also tailored towards a continued support of Calgary's affordable housing market. The report adds that more research is required for incorporating more recovery supports for the Indigenous population and expanding mental health resources for those experiencing complex mental health and addictions.

"I think we know that between the housing crisis, affordability issues and the opioid epidemic , we need to move quicker to catch up," Morley said.

"We need to support this community, we need funding and we need opportunities and doors to open, so there's no shortage of will to start to change the system and to respond to our current reality."

Downtown safety has been a significant priority for the city recently.

The City of Calgary has added an additional downtown outreach and crisis response team, transit improvements like safety hubs with more police and brighter lights at LRT platforms.

The city also announced $1.9 million in grants to seven places like the library and convention centre. There have also been efforts over the last year to boost enforcement in the area.

The province deployed dozens of sheriffs to the downtown core during a pilot project last summer.

In December, the province announced it would fund 50 new police officers in Calgary to patrol high-crime areas like LRT stations.

When could these recommendations be implemented?

According to Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, the city's administration team will need to thoroughly review which recommendations will need council approval and what sort of timeframe may be needed for implementation.

"I know that city administration is very eager to get this going because there is an understanding of those mandates, the different service lines and where council direction is required," Gondek said.

"We work very closely with colleagues, particularly Councillor Wong, who represents the downtown, to make sure that things make it as a notice of motion or some sort of direction collaboratively with administration."

Gondek adds she has every intention to deliver the report to the provincial government.

"That's how we've operated as a council, we've made sure we bring the province along on the journey, and that's how we create a safer environment and better quality of life for all Calgarians. "

"I think there's also intertwining between what we found in the city's housing strategy and what we're seeing as some of the highlights in this report."  

'This isn't just a downtown problem'

A Calgary mother who lost her son in a violent incident last year says while she agrees with some of the recommendations in this report, she still thinks there's an overall lack of action addressing public safety strategies throughout Calgary in general.

Heather Anderson is still mourning the death of her 28-year-old-son Triston, who was stabbed to death last September at the Marlborough CTrain Station.  

"This isn't just a downtown problem," she said.

"Why wasn't this done before? Especially when the city knows it has a problem, this just isn't something new," she said.

Anderson specifically called out the city for failing to put police substations at LRT locations, including Marlborough and Whitehorn. She says the crime expands outward on the train lines and the city needs to broaden its focus. 

"We've gone back to Marlborough Station and watched, and there's no security, nobody doing nothing. People just doing whatever they want, doing drugs, sitting in the little patch underneath the stairwell and there's nobody there to say, 'Hey, move along.'

"Where are the substations? I was told we're going to have a substation before the end of the year, but which year? I'm angry, it shouldn't take this many years to implement, you can get a team together, heck I'll come sit there and help you.

Anderson went on to also question other recommendations, which include enhancing police and uniform presence throughout downtown. She wondered why police officers aren't designated to ride the train throughout all hours of their shift.

Holding up a photo of her son, she says the city's lack of a quick police response when her son was killed still haunts her to this day.

"This is all we have left, we don't have him, and he was a kind young man who didn't deserve this because of a lack of policing and security," Anderson said, holding back tears.

"When you hear, 'Oh we were there in two to three minutes?' Don't try and appease me, somebody should have been there and there should be security there all the time."

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