ByWard Market business owners not fully convinced about new police operations centre

byward market

While business owners in the ByWard Market are glad to see steps being taken to address safety concerns, some are unsure whether a new hub for police in the Rideau Centre will have much impact. 

On Monday, the Ottawa Police Services Board unanimously agreed to sign a lease agreement for a storefront location inside the mall, located at the intersection of Rideau and William streets, across from the O-Train station. 

The 2,629-square-foot space is set to become a “neighbourhood operations centre” near the ByWard Market, as an initial step toward addressing calls for more security services in the area from residents and business owners. 

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“Establishing a more permanent location in the ByWard Market will increase police visibility in the Market and will provide the OPS with access to a more reliable space in which to meet with community partners to collaborate more effectively on a whole-of-service delivery for the ByWard Market area,” said a report to board members on the issue. 

The move aligns with a campaign promise by Mayor Mark Sutcliffe to increase police presence in the area. 

The five-year lease on the space begins in February 2024. 

Phil Emond, gallery director of Gordon Harrison Canadian Landscape Gallery on Sussex Drive, said he’s glad to see efforts from the city to address safety concerns, but he’s not convinced the new operations hub will be effective on its own. 

“It’s about time something happens to have more presence,” said Emond. “But I think we need way more than that. In my opinion, we need more of an approach that is collective. Where are social services? Should they not be integrated into this model?”

Emond is one of many business owners in the area to raise safety concerns. In the past few months, Emond said multiple businesses have been broken into, some more than once. 

He added there has been a noticeable increase in drug use, as well the number of unhoused people congregated in the area, without sufficient additional resources brought in to support them. 

“More police presence is not going to help that,” he said. “We need to redefine the role of the police, what they’re going to do, and how they’re going to deal with that. And I think we need social services people involved in that model, too.”

Carmen Montemurro, receptionist at Silver Fox Barbershop on Murray Street, shared Emond’s concerns. 

She said the lack of adequate social services in the area, including proper shelters where people can stay during the day, has contributed to the concerns of business. 

“They have nowhere to go,” she said. “During the day, (the shelters) push them out and they’re going to be around on the streets. They need someplace where they can stay.”

According to both Emond and Montemurro, the operations centre’s location was also a disappointment. Both had heard that a more central location within the Market had been floated. Montemurro said the Rideau Centre location is farther away than she’d like.  

“I feel they’re protecting the Rideau Centre more than all the businesses around the ByWard Market,” she said. “By having the police station out there, they’re just going to be pushing them our way.”

Montemurro added that just bringing in more police won’t be enough, since there’s already a police and security presence in the area. In order for the new operations centre to be effective, she said officers need to be spending most of their time on foot within the community. 

“I would like to see them walking around,” she said. “I’d like to see them have more police going around the street and monitoring to see what’s going on.

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