Jordyn Caron, a bartender at Craft Beer Market on 10th Avenue downtown, usually finishes her Friday and Saturday night shifts at 4:30 am. She takes transit to work. But often ends up taking an Uber home afterwards.

“Usually I feel fine,” Caron said, in part because Craft Beer Market’s security team will escort workers when they can. However, sometimes they can’t. And Caron is aware that sometimes things aren’t fine.

Caron mentioned another downtown worker being jumped after her late shift.

“A girl got jumped and all of her tips were stolen, she was petrified.”

That’s why Caron would like to see Calgary have a Safewalk option, similar to the one already available at universities in Calgary – as well as other cities, such as Victoria and Winnipeg.

But that isn’t currently an option for Calgary’s late night downtown residents and workers. And, currently, the provincial government and the business community seeing little need for the service, since the city already has a police patrol in place.

Safewalk is a program that provides complimentary walks from buildings, parkades, and businesses to an individual’s workplace, residence or transportation.

Mount Royal University and the University of Calgary established Safewalk programs for students working late nights.

According to Mount Royal security, it’s “based on the belief that there is safety in numbers.”

Shining Chang, the Safewalk coordinator for University of Calgary’s campus security, said, “Safewalk program has a reason to exist and that’s because with the service we’re able to reach out and provide [for] our community and support whatever they need.”

Safewalk usage increases during the first few weeks of the semester and during final exam season, but Jody Jones, the security supervisor, would like to see more Mount Royal students use the program.

“I find with a lot of people when they talk to us about it, they say well we don’t want to put you out. But that’s our job. Our job is to make sure you’re safe,” states Jones.

Safewalk is available for anyone on the university campus. Infographic by Casey Richardson.

Making people safe is also the objective of Victoria and Winnipeg’s Safewalk programs.

Victoria’s program was created after public consultations suggested such an initiative would increase the use of the city’s parking facilities in 2014.

“I think that Victoria’s a safe city. Victoria had lots to be done in our public sphere and spaces for a safety perspective and for people getting to their cars,” said Bill Eisenhauer, the head of engagement for the city of Victoria.  

The city’s Safewalk program is solely in downtown parkades. Security is available anytime to meet you at the entrance.  

Eisenhauer stated, “What we’re seeing is what we intended to do which is [give] peace of mind and those who park in the parkades… feel safe parking in the parkades and that they know there’s assistance to them.”

Winnipeg’s program is the more expansive. The Downtown BIZ, a group of business people who wanted to see a safer downtown, began the program in 1995.

The safety coordinator for the program was a retired police officer, and the start-up focused on security, cleanliness and improving the image and attractiveness of downtown.

Shawn Matthews, the director of safety and outreach initiatives for Downtown Winnipeg BIZ, says that the presence of safety ambassadors had a very positive impact.

“They’re always willing to help and can be the eyes and ears of the community and the police service and our paramedics. We have a very good relationship with all the emergency services and they know the credibility of the watch program.”

The safety ambassadors work closely with hotels and businesses, providing tourists, visitors, and business employees with downtown navigation.

“We’ll get requests to come into presentations for newcomers and then quite often because of that if they’re uncomfortable being downtown for the first little while, they’ll call us and we’ll provide Safewalks for them.”

“We have business people and hotels that call us when there are conferences in and people want to go out but they’re not sure how to get somewhere around downtown.”

The program adds a sense of security for residents, and some even use Safewalk every day when taking public transportation downtown to walk to their office.

Matthews says the feedback they get is very positive and it doesn’t cost the users anything.

By contrast, in Calgary’s downtown, the police are the only public providing late night security for everyone.

According to community crime statistics provided by the Calgary Police, the downtown core has an average of 490 social disorderedly charges per month. Car break-ins have increased since 2015, with 224 in that year and 290 in 2017.

Despite these recent statistics, Maggie Schofield, executive director for the Calgary Downtown Association, said that the citizen perception surveys done by the City of Calgary have shown very high satisfaction with the level of safety and security downtown.

However, Schofield recognized that people working late night have few security options, and transit is limited since the ridership isn’t high enough for the train to continue running.

“Because when you’re an office worker in the daytime, you’re pretty much guaranteed a safe trip to and from work, and you have lots of options, but when you’re a late night worker there’s not much. We have worked very hard on that and we still have not got traction on that,” Schofield said.

Schofield added that employees who are downtown later should be calling on their employers to make sure they’re getting to their cars or transit safely. She stated that the business association went to the provincial government to look for funding to see if a program like Safewalk was viable and was told that it wasn’t needed.  

“We have looked at that [Safewalk] before and what we would’ve called an ambassador program,” Schofield said. “That was right at the time when the city police service was coming up with their beat patrols. As we worked through with them and the complimentary bike program, as well as the transit officers and the community resource officers, it was really felt to be quite redundant,” she said.

The Safewalk program was regarded as unneeded because of Calgary police’s foot and beat patrol already in place.

Nevertheless, Schofield said, “If we see a need certainly we’ve done the background work and we know what it would take to run one [safewalk], and certainly it something we would look at, if there was a requirement but we haven’t seen that to this point.”

crichardson@cjournal.ca

Editor: Sean Holman | sholman@mtroyal.ca