Attack on Senior May Harm Downtown Businesses

THUNDER BAY – There are many people in Thunder Bay who simply will not venture into either of our communities downtown cores. Talking to those people, you hear comments that seniors fearful that the downtown cores are not safe. Now, that is one of the differences between perception and reality. There are not a massive number of muggings, assaults or attacks on people in the downtown cores. Crime statistics demonstrate that quite clearly.

However, the attack on a 90-year-old woman, who now is reported to be in the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre in critical but stable condition will serve as an impetus on public perception.

The perception that our downtown cores are not safe is an issue that will now grow in the minds of more of our city’s residents. It is entirely likely that for many in our city, this incident may serve as that ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’. Sadly the real impact of this latest attack will be that even more people in our community will simply stay away from the downtown cores. That is going to hurt business, and hurt development, not to mention harming our community’s reputation.

It is also likely, because the suspect is reportedly an Aboriginal male, that we will see increased incidents of racism in our city.

What is needed is positive action. This terrible incident presents a real opportunity for the Thunder Bay Police Service to step up their presense in the downtown cores, and work on preventing crime across the city. Over first week of September, the Crimemap demonstrates that there was a fair number of crimes over the week, in the downtown north ward. That include the robbery and resulting injuries to this 90-year-old lady.

It should also send a message loud and clear to Mayor Keith Hobbs, and the rest of City Council, that the time for action has arrived. That message is likely to be ramped up if residents start contacting City Councillors and demanding action.

There are a lot of federal, provincial and municipal tax-dollars being invested in projects in the Port Arthur and Fort William downtown cores. The Marina Park and proposed multiplex for the downtown Port Arthur core are designed to bring more people into the district. In Fort William, the Courthouse, and the District Social Services Administration building represent over $400,000,000.00 in taxdollars.

Yet during the week, after six pm the streets in the downtown southward are very empty. Shops close, merchants and their staff hurry home. The idea of opening later on Thursdays and Fridays is seen as too risky by many, and honestly put, there just are not enough customers in the area to make it worthwhile to open for most businesses. While for many Canadian cities, the heart of the community is downtown, in Thunder Bay with two downtowns, that really isn’t the case anymore.

Solving this problem is going to take action. It is also going to take new ideas, and new approaches. The Thunder Bay Police Service assure us that they have one of the best crime clearance rates in Canada. Perhaps the area we need to take leadership on is being the best at is in crime prevention?

It is going to take a greater engagement by Police on an official level, not just at the street level. That means our new Chief of Police is going to have to start reaching out into the community both in person, as he has done, but also online as well. Back in July, the Chief got off to a good start. Now in September it is time to ramp up the efforts.

Take the incident outside the Thunder Bay Casino, it happened on Friday at about 6:22PM. The information was not released online until Monday. That lag is one that does not let the public help as quickly as they could. That is old-fashioned thinking. News travels in nano-seconds in today’s world.

It is going to take real change in the communications strategy. That will have to include a far greater embracement of the growing importance of the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter. Perhaps Thunder Bay should be seeking to hire officers, already trained and experienced in social media, from Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary or other centres which are already way ahead of our service in embracing and engaging the online world?

Now, it is pretty obvious that the Police Services Board, and the Chief of Police both would be dedicated to seeing reduced crime. What that means is setting goals and then meeting those targets. Likely what is also needed are for First Nations leaders to work closer with the Thunder Bay Police. Perhaps going on ride-alongs with the police on a few weekends, and seeing things from the frontlines would be a good first step. Likely it is time for members of City Council to invest some Friday nights and Saturday nights in our downtown cores too.

That this latest incident happened during daylight hours is sending a message that our city, and our new Chief of Police does not want to send to the public.

Let us all support the Chief in taking strong action here to make our core districts, and the rest of Thunder Bay safer.

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