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New Downtown Ambassador contracts to be cancelled

February 4th, 2009 · 38 Comments

The new Vision council promised to stop putting city money into paying for private security guards in the city’s business districts and it’s about to carry out that promise tomorrow — after hearing from speakers on the subject.

If you have a strong opinion, hop on down to the 9:30 committee meeting tomorrow, although I seriously doubt anything you have to say will change their minds. But you’ll get to practice your public speaking skills and, who knows, someday they might have an impact somewhere else.

For those not in the know, the Downtown Ambassadors were a creation of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association back in 2000. They’re those guys and gals in the red and black jackets who roam around, sometimes helping tourists, sometimes making sure that a particularly energetic panhandler isn’t scaring anyone, and generally keeping an eye on the street.

For the first several years, they were paid for from the fees that the BIAs levy on their business members. Then the idea popped into someone’s head that it would be good for the city to help pay for them, since they help maintain order and safety in various parts of the city.

The previous council put money into expanding the downtown program, then agreed just prior to last fall’s election to help pay for similar Downtown Ambassadors in 15 other business districts, at a cost of $500,000 a year. I understand there was high anxiety just after the election over whether senior managers were merrily finalizing those contracts, locking them in.

But, apparently not. They’ve weren’t signed and now the motion is to not proceed with them. That is certain to upset some business owners in the districts. I know that in Gastown, they very much like the Ambassadors, who come around frequently and get to know every character in the neighbourhood.

The question for everyone, though, is not: Is this a good program? I think people think it is, in general, except for some complaints that have been publicized about how street people or not-upscale-enough-looking residents get treated.

The question is: Who should pay for them? Are they just a service that mainly benefits the businesses, and so they should be paid for, as they have been exclusively in the past, by BIA fees? Or are they a general benefit, something that serves a lot of residents and visitors to Vancouver and therefore should be paid for by general tax dollars. (And I’m not even going to get into the question of whether the question of whether this is just privatizing or contracting out police services.)

Categories: City Hall Talk

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  • Wagamuffin

    So….

    If they take away the Ambassadors program…

    Who is going to protect us from the cops?

    On a more serious note, the Ambassadors are visible and walk the beat, something the police seemingly cannot or will not do.

    I say: Keep ’em. They are another level of safety and security on our streets. More people watching out for all of us is a good thing. They successfully co-mingle private and public security in places like New York City.

    Surely, we are worthy—and worth it.

  • not running for mayor

    While I like the idea of the ambassadors I feel many people have an issue with them being run by a private company paid for with taxpayer money. I’m sure if the city took them inhouse the total cost would be about the same, the ambassadors themselves would make a bit more money thus being able to attract and keep better people. It would also reduce some issues people have about them. Personally I’d be fine with the status quo. We’d all love to have the VPD walk the beat and do what they do, but they won’t and even if they would we couldn’t afford it.

  • Sharon Townsend

    The Ambassador program is not perfect but it fills a significant need in our community. They help with all manner of street issues that would never, ever get addressed no matter how many police the city hires. They handle most things on their own and when it gets serious – it is time to call the police. The police love it – by the time the call comes from an Ambassador the situation has been screened and they are rarely wasting their time. I would be over the moon if I could have a police presence in my neighbourhood on a daily basis. They would know the local residents and shop keepers by name. They would notice the notorious shoplifters when they turn up, they would report the abandoned matresses left by residents on moving day, they would make sure all the homeless would have shelter during freezing temperatures – but no… that is not what police do any more. It is not what citizens do anymore. So there is this big hole in our community that should some how be miraculously filled.

    It is funny how people forget that business pay taxes too. Half of them to be exact! For all the city services that are not applicable to business you would think the small amount of support that was involved with the Ambassador Expansion could have been tolerated.

    BIAs and business communities are not exclusive little enclaves. They share the neighbourhood with residents. It is everyone’s community – and whatever the business community does, more often than not, the residents around it benefit. Litter pick up, hanging flower baskets, decorative banners, street patrols, community festivals – don’t assume any of those bring dollars into a business. Instead think of them as a contribution to a collective sense of place for all to enjoy.

    The writing has been on the wall since before the election that the Ambassador expansion was on shakey ground. It is unfortunate that so much effort has been wasted on this valueable project but as Frances has said so well… the business community does not need any public speaking practice on this topic.

    Unfortunately, the need is still there. Those needs were made abundantly clear in the reports developed for the Ambassador funding allocations. I am eager to hear what our new council proposes as an alternative that may be more appropriate to their liking. Doing nothing is not an option.

  • gmgw

    I won’t miss the Ambassadors. They were a good idea in theory, but in practice they often acted more like a goon squad, at least when dealing with the homeless. I vividly recall an encounter with them a couple of years ago. I was walking to work along Seymour about 8 AM when I came upon two Ambassadors shaking down a homeless person who’d been sleeping, covered with cardboard, in a doorway where the homeless often sleep (the building houses a social service agency and I have to presume that the proprietors don’t have a serious problem with people sleeping there; it’s not the main entrance to the building). They were shouting at him and threatening to have him arrested if he didn’t get his ass out of there, now! As I passed by I mildly suggested that they might take a more civil tone; it wasn’t the poor sod’s fault he had to sleep in that doorway. They both turned on me and threatened *me* with arrest (i.e. calling the cops to have me arrested) if I didn’t move on, pronto. I did.

    I’ve since observed similar incidents involving the Ambassadors several times. Either the Ambassadors I’ve encountered were all very poorly trained, or the ugly rumours about their mandate to harass the homeless and indigent are true. Regardless, in no way should the city have been funding them– they are an arm of a private company– and the new Council’s decision to curtail that funding is welcome. Better and more humanistic ways to deal with street-level social problems in this city must be found.

  • spartikus

    The Ambassadors have been (or were until recently) banned from a major city associated building downtown because their “undercover unit” continually refused to identify themselves to this building’s own security when entering it to “arrest” alleged shoplifting suspects – something which, I’m told, even the VPD has the courtesy and professionalism to do.

  • Sharon Townsend

    Under-cover loss prevention is not part of the Ambassador program. Human rights training is. Authorization by a property owner to request compliance with the tresspact act is part of what they can do if the situation is appropriate and legal.

    Every security company in the city becomes an Ambassador in these kinds of conversations. They are not. Formal complaints are minimal and if they do come… they are treated seriously.

    As I said earlier – the program is not perfect – neither are employees, just like police are not perfect, citizens are not perfect, street people are not perfect and the law is not perfect.

    Bottom line is we still have a huge void in what the police have time and mandate for and the question still remains – if not Ambassadors… what then.

  • tommi

    Does Vision plan to replace Ambassadors with beat cops or are they simply going to cancel the program after all this investment? This decision will most likely result in more petty crime around the city, especially the DTES. Is Vision okay with more street disorder and crime activity in our neighbourhoods?

  • Jeannette M

    “well liked in Gastown” – I am a resident of Gastown.

    Before the Ambassdors showed up, the BIA (I assume) hired a private security guard to do what the Ambassadors basically are “supposed” to be doing – we had a regular guard or two from the company the BIA contracted, and they were a constant familiar face. Respectful, friendly, sweet to not only residents, but to tourists, the homeless, the drug addicted, and seemed to know many business owners/employees by name.

    Then the DA showed up – never have I seen them smile, offer directions to a lost tourist wondering how to get to Chinatown looking at Carral and Hastings. They stomp around, smoke outside starbucks and flirt with the employees, harass the panhandlers (I’ve seen them be rude and get into shouting matches more than once) and, if I was in some state of distress, they are NOT someone I would want to run to for assistance. They are completely unfriendly, and look like they hate their jobs. I don’t know what they are doing down there, but I can’t wait until they are gone and we can either have beat cops (which really, in that hood, SHOULD be on patrol all the time, if ANY neighborhood) or our old security guards.

    The DAs in Gastown are AWFUL.

  • Dave Jones

    I enjoy the remarks of some of the perfect people out there who care more than others and seemed to relish in heaping abuse onto the ambassadors.

    The ambassadors are people who have paid money to be trained, have exposed themselves to onerous and multilayered accountability and licensing. They are people who face many of the most tragic and difficult people in our society while having no powers other than to model citizenship wherever they can and to whomever they can.

    Ambassadors come from many countires, ethnic and racial backgrounds. They speak many languages. Some of them are mothers returning to the workforce. Still more come from their own difficult backgrounds inclduing homelessness and addictions. A few are recovering from serious injuries and walking helps. Others are going to school and some are there to acquire skills in judgement, decision making, interpersonal relations, and conflict resolution for careers elsewhere. There are even ambassadors who just love being in the open air and talking to people. There are also some who made the wrong choice and have left the program because it does not suit their personality. My god, they are human!

    To the person who feels the ambassadors in Gastown are awful, perhaps you would prefer to return to the days six month ago when open drug use and trafficking were a minute by minute event and when aggressive individuals plagued visitors. Speak to the Executive Director of the Gastown BIA who has the data and knows how it was used and the results it produced. You don’t have to believe me, the data speaks for itself. And if you are really clever you might even figure out what the trick was.

    I just ask that you take some time to really understand the program and what it can and cannot do and how it fits into the spectrum of hospitality and public safety as simply one component. Try to remove your political or philosophical lens and take an unbiased look or at least clean your monocle.

  • Observer

    I guess that doesn’t include the Commercial drive ambassadors whom I saw harassing some squeegie kid today.

  • Jeannette M

    @ Dave.

    I am not using a political lense, or a philisophical one. I am using my own eyes, with what I have seen in Gastown.

    The program has issues. Is it good in theory? Perhaps – if it was limited to tourist help/advice and more like a community watch then it would be ok.

    I have witnessed the Ambassadors harassing panhandlers. I have witnessed Ambassador’s breaking the smoking near entrance way by-laws. I have witnessed Ambassadors ignore confused tourists with maps, leaving them to be unhelped or helped by pedestrians. I have witnessed Ambassadors move homeless people along and threaten to call the police on them. I have witnessed Ambassadors stand around and unprofessionally flirt with the girls at Starbucks.

    I am a long time resident of my community. I walk throughout the community everyday – in many respects I possibly spend more time down there on the street than many of the local business owners do. And I can tell you that I haven’t noticed a lick of difference in the drug use in Gastown. It’s just as bad as it was, or as not bad as it was, depending on your point of reference.

    I would much MUCH MUCH rather have my tax dollars go towards well trained beat cops anyday. If the BIAs want to continue to pay out of pocket fine, but there has been zero benefit to me as a tax payer.

  • not running for mayor

    Jeannette I to am a resident of Gastown and have been for years, I have no idea how you could say the drug use is as bad as it was, the area is now night and day. I don’t account it all on the ambassadors, when Gastown BIA was using Palladin guards they were doing a good job as well but I have definetally seen an improvement since the Ambassadors took over. I’m sorry your experiences are so terrible but they do not represent the community. Attend a meeting of the Gastown historic planning committee which is run by members of the public that live in the area and they will tell you about the vast improvement to the area, in which the ambassadors have planed a large role.

  • Jeannette

    Perhaps you’ve been living here longer than me, but I have noticed no difference.

    the palladin guards did a fantastic job. they were friendly, they were kind, they got to know people. I had ZERO bias against the DAs before I moved to this hood, and was curious when I saw the red jackets instead of the yellow ones. I have witnessed so many terrible things done by the guys in red over the past year that I don’t know how anyone can think they have done a great job. My only regret is that I don’t carry a camera on me to capture some of these indescretions.

    The area has changed yes – but to credit it to the BA’s, really? In the last 2 years so many new shops have opened, the woodward’s project and the carral street project has brought a stronger daytime civilian presence, and these things have made a difference.

    I still see people shooting up in alleys, on the street, in my doorway. I see people walking around with syringes hanging out of their arms.

    I mean, even IF the noticable drug use has gone down, how can it reasonably be attributed to the DAs? Out of sight out of mind? If all the DAs are doing is moving people along how is that justifyable? they just go to Chinatown, Railtown, or Strathcona which doesn’t pay for DAs. How DAs can be a reasonable solution to street safety is *beyond* me.

    Also: I’ve seen more petty and violent crime in Gastown done by the drunks coming out of clubs than any panhandler or street person. The DAs don’t do anything to prevent against this….

  • A Dave

    Last summer I was walking with my 8 yr old son at Cordova and Columbia and we came across two Ambassadors writing a note in chalk on the sidewalk. My son, always curious, stopped and read the message out loud as the Ambassadors and I stood there. It read:

    “Tourist Alert: Hastings Drug District ahead. Not for children’s eyes.”

    A rather bizarre message for an “Ambassador” to write, wouldn’t you say?

    The awkward conversation that followed left both my son and I shaking our heads. These Ambassadors had zero compassion, tact, understanding of their job, or people skills. They had no idea how to deal with my kid, let alone an adult questioning their actions. I doubt either of them even knew what the word “diplomacy” means.

    Any improvement in the Gastown streets cannot possibly be tied to the Ambassadors, and if the BIA makes that tenuous conclusion, then they should probably hire someone new to do their research. The recent improvement on the streets in Gastown is undoubtedly due to the shelters that opened recently. If the Ambassadors really wanted to do good in Gastown, they would stop all the club hoppers with weak bladders and the exploding population of designer dog owners from using the area as a giant toilet. Give them plastic bags and make them clean up all the dog shit everywhere. Now that would be money well spent.

  • Jeannette M

    @ A Dave:

    So THAT is who was writing all those messages in chalk! I wondered about that = for a few week period they were *everywhere* in the area – “Drug District Ahead” and notes about “ghost people” and all sorts of bizarre offensive things. At the time, my boyfriend and I thought it was some strange group of extreme anti-drug use “activists” infiltrating the area… WOW.

  • A Dave

    Yeah, Jeannette, funny thing about those messages is that I had taken my son to the Vancouver Museum about a week before, and they had an activity about the “Hobo Code”. During the Depression, hobos used to write chalk messages in code telling other travellers if a place was safe, a good place to eat, where to find a place to sleep, etc. The Ambassadors — or whoever dreamed up their using these chalk messages last summer — were obviously playing off the Hobo Code, probably in conjunction with Tourist Office. Unfortunately, the information they (the Ambassadors, not the hobos)conveyed was alarmist, puerile, judgemental and often totally bizarre. It made everyone — tourists, residents, addicts, homeless, business owners — utterly embarrassed to have to pass these ridiculous messages every day. This is the exact opposite to what an “Ambassador” should be doing.

  • Sharon Townsend

    interesting. Downtown Ambassadors were not working the DES or Gastown last summer.

  • Dave Jones

    Commercial drive does not have ambassadors and ambassadors ar enot permitted to write chalk remarks. Get over it people. They have helped in many ways and are not perfect. For interest Ambassadors started in Gastown in June 2008. They have never worked the Commercial drive area. There are many companies that use red and black uniforms. Make sure you see Downtown Ambassador on the back before you attribute behaviour. If you see something you don’t like then call the Gastown BIA and be precise. Time, date, location, and identifying call sign located on the right breast pocket. It will be dealt with. Smoking by a doorway, no problem, call the Gastown BIA or the DVBIA at 604 685-7811 with details and it will be resolved. If an identifiable ambassador marked something in chalk, that is not something the program supports and was the action of an individual who would not be an ambassador long if someone took the step to report it.

  • Sharon Townsend

    this blog thread feels like one of those bizarre discussions that claim Obama is a Muslim. Everyone is an expert, everyone has evidence, everyone presumes what they hear is the truth and everyone is closed to believe anything other that what re-enforces their personal bias.

  • A Dave

    Riiiiiigggght, Sharon and Dave Jones!!! One of you says they were in Gastown last summer, the other says they weren’t. If they weren’t working there, then what the hell were they doing writing chalk messages on the sidewalks, smoking outside of Starbucks or Al’s Pizza? Clearly, their bosses and the BIA had no control over what they were doing, and apparently don’t even know where they were doing it. (See the blog Beyond Robson for another Gastown dust-up with the Ambassadors that was recorded). Thankfully, the debate is moot. They’re gone.

  • Sharon Townsend

    I was mistaken about the start date of Gastown’s program (I was of the understanding it was not rolled out until September/October.) Guilty. However, I am not mistaken about their training and what they would and would not do. The chalk accusation is nothing but heresay.

    The Ambassador program is a good one and will continue to function in the city with or without city funds. The only part that is cancelled is the small portion of hours that was going to be financially supported by the city… 38 patrol hours a day for the entire city.

  • Stephanie

    “Dave Jones” wrote:
    “They are people who face many of the most tragic and difficult people in our society while having no powers other than to model citizenship wherever they can and to whomever they can.”

    I cannot believe that anyone actually managed to write that with a straight face. I am someone whose job it is to actually “face many of the more tragic and difficult people in our society”, and I can tell you with complete certainty that if I *ever* got up to what I see the DAs doing to the poor in Gastown, I would be fired in a heartbeat.

    The DAs are unprofessional. They are unrestrained. They personalize disputes that are contextual to their roles. They are verbally abusive. And they intrude in places they have absolutely no right to intrude – for example, screaming at people who are panhandling, shooing people with carts off the block, or “moving along” anyone who looks like they might be a drag on business.

    I also beg to differ with the assertion that open drug use and drug dealing have improved. Have you gotten a look at Blood Alley lately? It’s a hellhole, and the dealers who have moved in are several shades of nasty worse than the usual low-level dealers we used to have down there. Cordova between Carrall and Abbott is turning into a nightmare. And there are problems around Maple Tree Square that most definitely didn’t exist six months ago.

    Complaints aren’t minimal because the DAs are professional – it’s just that nobody bothers to complain. I mean, come on – a panhandler has a reasonable expectation of a positive outcome when they call the Gastown BIA to complain about their private security? Is anyone naive enough to believe that?

  • Sharon Townsend

    please offer us a viable alternative and we would be happy to consider it.

  • I’ve lived in gastown for 7 years now and am happy to see the DA’s go. Like a couple others have mentioned, I’ve personally witnessed what at best can be called harassment of our marginalized fellow citizens. It’s nuts: Patrons of the Modern Club are not monitored as they arrive with open beer cans, and leave the premises and piss on people’s doorways, but at 8am Sunday morning people without homes who are pathetically sleeping against buildings, in no-one’s way, are woken up and moved along (an illegal act by the DAs, incidentally, when it’s public space).
    I don’t blame the individual DAs, but until the company can train better and have a super-clear mandate that protecting against shoplifting is one thing, and “cleaning up the neighbourhood” according to a select group of citizens in the community is another, the company should not have their contract renewed by anyone, much less the city.

  • A Dave

    “The chalk accusation is nothing but heresay.”

    Sharon and Dave Jones, if I report an eyewitness account of innappropriate behaviour on the part of the DAs, is it going to be dismissed by the BIA as “nothing more than hearsay?” If you don’t even believe what the taxpaying residents (and patrons of the local businesses) are reporting with their own two eyes, what possible chance of redress would a homeless panhandler have reporting harrassment by a DA?

  • Sharon Townsend

    badge number, date, time, location, photo perhaps? that’s all that is needed. We take all complaints seriously but we will not take responsibility for people we don’t employ or events we cannot substantiate. I equate that to witch hunting.

    Nothing would make me happier than to redirect self assessed funds spent by my BIA on security toward things that actually directly benefit local businesses like marketing. That is going to take beat cops, bylaw enforcement (other than parking) and health care workers in my neighbourhood in a deterrent mode rather than crisis response mode.

    I don’t see that happening any time soon so again… please offer us an alternative. We are doing the best we can with the resourses we have to make our neighbourhoods clean, safe and a great place to live – for everyone. Instead of beating us up for it, perhaps you may want to chip in an help out.

  • Stephanie

    Pardon me if I don’t give much weight to Ms. Townsend’s assertion that complaints will be taken seriously, given that several Gastown residents are telling her in this forum that there are systematic problems with the behaviour of DAs and she’s dismissing them with terms like “witch hunting” and “hearsay” and allusions to Obama birth certificate wingnuttery.

    As for the insistence that we “offer an alternative”, my initial suggestion would simply be that the BIA exercise a modicum of competence in running the DA program. But the problem with this suggestion is that the BIA considers the behaviour we object to as perfectly acceptable, save the smoking near the doorways and chatting up the Starbucks servers.

    It seems pretty clear to me from the comments made here by Ms. Townsend and Mr. Jones that the DAs’ lack of professionalism comes from the top down, not the bottom up.

  • Sharon Townsend

    I can only speak for the DA program in my jurisdiction. Complaints are dealt with seriously and immediately. In 18 months there have been 2 complaints. One was about a DA sitting on a bench having a nap. He was on his lunchhour. Now DA must sit inside a warm stuffy office to have their lunch so people don’t think they are slacking off. If they want a cigarette, they have to do like everyone else and go outside. The other complaint was an interpretation of the tresspass act. The situation was resolved and dealt with within 24 hours – no debate required. I challenge you to find another organization that would respond as quickly or without a lengthy investigation. We err on the side of caution – always.

    I have said it several times, no program is perfect but I take strong exception to the inference that the BIA is anything less than professional in its conduct or attitude.

    I stand by my reference to witch hunting.

  • Stephanie

    Ms. Townsend, we are telling you that we have *seen* the DAs yell at panhandlers, and harass people off of public sidewalks, and roust people from sleeping in public places, and threaten people who call them out on their behaviour.

    You, on the other hand, insist that the DAs are professional.

    So: are you saying the above behaviour is professional, or are you saying that we are lying? Please do clarify.

  • Sharon Townsend

    I will say it again… time, date, call number, location.

    The original blog post by Frances was never intended to debate the merits of the DA program -which Councillor Louie publicly agrees is a good program! The blog post was to discuss the City of Vancouver’s reversal of a motion that was passed by the previous administration.

    I highly doubt that we are going to look through the same lens on this subject any time soon so my question becomes back to what is a viable alternative to the program expansion that Council has now cancelled.

  • Not Running for mayor

    Surprised to see this thread still going strong.

    This whole discussion reminds me of a video years ago about a security guard that fought a skateboarder at the BC Hydro site and was fired after the video recorded by another skater was posted on the net. The company reviewed the onsite video after the fact and discovered the guard had just before the altercation been spat on and struck in the back of the head with a backpack. Which for whatever reason didn’t make it onto the net version of the video.

    Like I’ve mentioned I have lived in Gastown for years (before it was hip to admit you lived here). I have never seen either the old Paladin guards or the more recent DA act inappropaitely. I spend alot of time walking the streets and don’t just walk to work and home then spend the nights in my unit. I have witnessed them talking to homeless people on many occassions but never yelling or shooing them away, they appear to know most of them by name. I’ve seen them hand out information with the addresses of shelters and where they can get a hot meal as well. Maybe you see that as pushing them along but as I don’t. I can understand Sharon and Dave being non-confrontation on this as they need to be. But I on the other hand don’t, I’ll call you out and state that you are lying when you say you’ve witnessed that behaviour firsthand. (with the expection of smoking just outside starbucks or flirting with the girls I’ll buy that)

  • Dave Jones

    OK this is out of hand. Opinions are one thing, allegations another. If there is a solid example I can investigate please send it to me at the email dave@downtownvancouver.net or call at 604 685.7811 and arrange a time when we can meet to discuss.

  • Stephanie

    And in this exchange we have a perfect example of the lack of accountability of the BIA and the DA program. A number of people say they’ve seen serious problems with the DAs. The BIA says it hasn’t had any complaints. Now, if the BIA were a responsible organization that was interested in accountability it would say, “ok, this is a problem. If we’re only hearing complaints in this context then we need to look at what’s happening, because we need better information if we’re going to address problems with the DAs. ” Instead, the BIA and its allies say that there’s no problem whatsoever, we’re making it all up, and that we’re engaged in witch-hunting and wingnuttery.

    I expect it’s time to look for ways to compel them to be accountable, in the way of sanctions and the like. Maybe this is something the rest of the neighbourhood, like the people who have come here to talk about what they have witnessed and been characterized as liars, can work on.

  • Stephanie

    That’s funny – when I posted my comment, Dave Jones’s must have been in the moderation queue. I’ll be sure people have that contact information so that we can document and report issues in the future.

  • To add to what Dave Jones has said about any complaints or allegations of wrongdoing by the Downtown Ambassadors, I refer you to our comment/complaint process:

    Downtown Ambassador Comment and Complaint Process

    Downtown Ambassadors currently operate in the following Business Improvement Association, BIA areas:

    Downtown Vancouver BIA
    Yaletown BIA
    West End BIA
    South Granville BIA
    South hill BIA
    Gastown Business Improvement Association.

    Each BIA licenses the trademarked Downtown Ambassador program through the DVBIA and uses Genesis Security to provide the service. Comments or complaints are handled by each BIA and only where there is a concern that the image of the program is being affected would the DVBIA become involved in another BIAs management of the program in their area. However, because the program is identified most often to the DVBIA, the distinction between BIAs may not be obvious to others. Where there is uncertainty or the area involved is the DVBIA, the comments and complaints should be directed to the DVBIA Executive Director at dvbia@downtownvancouver.net with a copy to dave@downtownvancouver.net.

    Persons submitting comments or complaints will be responded to, normally the same or next business day to let them know who will be handling the issue.

    The following information is necessary to assist in isolating the incident and dealing with it:

    Location (as precise as possible)
    Date and time (very important)
    Identity number of the ambassador (located on the right breast pocket area) or description
    Whether the uniform said Downtown Ambassadors on the back (there are other security companies that use a similar uniform)
    Company name on the shoulder flash if possible
    Particulars of the incident
    Contact information of the complainant

    Comments and Complaints can also be provided in writing to the DVBIA at 1790 – 401 W. Georgia Street, Vancouver, B.C. V6B 5A1 (Attention: Executive Director) or directly at (604) 685-7811.

  • CWYL

    Wow, I wish I’d know about this string in February, I hope it’s still being monitored.
    I would like to add my own two cents to this posting, being someone who has not only dealt with both incarnations of the Gastown security and who has also lived in the area since 2000. I have also been assaulted by one of these supposed professional ambassador and spent thousands of hours volunteering in the downtown area since 1996.

    Aside from this I have knowledge of Dave Jones, whom is a Security Consultant & head of crime prevention for the DVBIA. Under Jones, the DVBIA hired the Ambassadors using Genesis (Paladin first?) Security guards. As for Sharon Townsend, the Executive Director of the South Granville BIA, I have only ever sent her one e-mail concerning a video I have on youtube concerning the ambassadors.

    Okay, here goes. First we are told that everyone in Gastown very much likes the ambassadors and then, practically in the same breath wee are told that people think it’s a good program. Of course concerned citizens are going to jump off topic when they consider things to be otherwise, honestly, what do you expect.

    So let’s tackle the main question of this forum; who should pay for them? This question, in my mind anyway, is relatively easy to answer. Two things must occur, a program must be established that is in good form and can be funded inexpensively by the involved partners (the BIA’s and the City). This can likely be done in a couple of ways that I can think of, one in particular that I like goes thusly;

    Primarily, an amalgam might occur in which a member of the VPD and a security company (likely on a two or three year contract with the BIA’s) teams up to patrol prime beat areas in tandem.

    This solves a problem that I’ve heard from both groups, that the police have nominal respect for the security companies providing this service, apparently because they think that they feel they’re taking food out of their mouths and are unreliable want–to-be cops.

    If this were to occur the ambassador would gains insight into the workings of the police force (if that’s the direction they opt to head in), not to mention it looks good on the resume. The rookie officers on the other hand could walk the beat as an enhancement to their regular shift work for additional union benefits and seniority that they might not otherwise be entitled to, at a reduced pay rate of course. A partnership like this might even become a prerequisite for some or all VPD recruits.

    Anyway, that’s the bones of it, what do you think? All I know is that it would be nice to see the police back on the beat in some capacity other than on party nights when they have to deal en-mass with raunchy drunks or when they swarm Starbucks in breaks.

    Now concerning the frustration with the Ambassadors that I have heard while scanned through this forum, I must say, I’m right there with you, being someone who was attacked by a rabid variety of the genus. Then I was ignored and finally slandered by the Executive Director who posted on this thread just above me.

    I might as well go through the forum person by person;

    WAGAMUFFIN, the VPD do walk the beat but not nearly as often as anyone would hope so yes the Ambassadors do provide a presence, though I rarely see them on my alley behind the Van Horne which Paladin Security used to patrol several times a day when they had the GBIA contract.

    NRFM, The Ambassadors I think are run by both the DVBIA (a not-for-profit organization) and Genesis, originally with ½ the money coming from the city, the other half from local business taxes. As for attracting and keeping better people if they were taken over by the city, it is a growing market so here’s hoping for the future.

    Though the drug trade is not quite as prevalent in front of the SRO hotels on Water Street, all sorts of people still use is the North alley behind Water Street or on Cordova Street. And of course the Carroll Street entrance to Blood alley is even worse now than previous years because it’s hard for the police to access due to the construction.

    As for the volunteers picked by the city sitting on the Gastown Historic Planning Committee, only one person of the ten members is actually picked because they are a resident, it’s on their home page, I would have thought you knew that having gone to their meetings. From what it seems that person doesn’t even have to live in Gastown, just own residential property here.

    I wasn’t terribly taken by your parable about the skaters either. It sounds like the guard simply may have alluded to the fact (or fiction) that something went down prior to the video that was created, that’s all the police need, and the employment standards people need (or what ever they call them in the states).

    No matter, you know what you know I know what I know, I’m afraid that I have to give more credence to Stephanie’s declarations at this point though. I have seen ambassadors get overly frisky with individuals at times, as I’ve seen Paladin Security (and Concorde) do so, it happens.

    Yes they do good, but in their position they must be above reproach. like not toking and passing joints in alleys frequented by drug abusers/dealers which I twice observed (but not in Gastown) and once I was told so by a trusted shop keeper.

    MRS. TOWNSEND, yes the ambassadors program does fill a need but the only thing that the police seem to like about them is that when someone calls 911 for lesser crimes they get told to call the ambassadors to attend even though you eventually have to talk to the VPD to fill out a report and get a file number anyway.

    Concerning notorious shoplifters, you can’t tell me that the ambassadors can make any better of a distinction then the shop keepers themselves as to whom not to trust in their stores when it comes to dealing with the poor.

    These homeless and low/no income folks also know just where the free and cheap food and shelters are to be found in town, even the emergency ones for harsh weather. If they don’t, they can ask another street person, they do have a vast social network out there.

    As for the business taxes that support the ambassadors, do they indeed still pay exactly 50% as you state, I’ve heard otherwise though perhaps I’m wrong? And about expansion, I know that I certainly wouldn’t provide the ambassadors more funding in their current incarnation, perhaps the city councilors are of the same mind, time will tell.

    About the residential benefiting that you imply are generated from the area business in your writings, it seems that if the business wasn’t there they would have no need for most of these “benefits”, only the businesses that bring in the trash, need the banners and cute lil flower baskets and of course the street patrols. The community festivals on the other hand do bring in money to the businesses, many of them anyway.

    Your statement “Instead think of them as a contribution to a collective sense of place for all to enjoy”, seemed a little over the top, something you gleaned from Dave Jones perhaps?

    It is however great to hear that human rights training is part of the ambassador programs curriculum but what about anger management or violence in the workplace training? Also how long is this training, a week-long seminar or just a class?

    As for your statement “the program is not perfect – neither are employees, just like police are not perfect, citizens are not perfect, street people are not perfect and the law is not perfect”, in this we are in full agreement, but I’ve already put my best foot forward when dealing with the ambassadors and was politely ignored until I put my foot down. Then I was trifled with and finally publically maligned by Charles Gauthier (Executive Director of the DVBIA) as well. I was also either lied to or Mr. Gauthier did so on Global TV as to the disposition of the individual in question. I certainly won’t sit still for this type of thing but I’m not so sure that someone homeless or drug addled might.

    I tried the steps you suggested (to the letter) and after being polite and patient with your organization I publicized my concerns which took a load off my chest. Now it’s a civil matter.

    Concerning your assumption that the Downtown Ambassadors were not working Gastown last summer, I believe Paladin’s contract ended sometime in June.

    Also concerning your assumption that we are all drones assuming the worst (a witch hunt eh?); while, yes personal biases will be enforced when other people seem to have like problems with an organization like yours, but I’m sure that your whole organization isn’t a loss, maybe you can rebuild, spend a million or two on a revamp? What do you think?

    Perhaps the ambassadors should specifically deal with tourists and their requirements rather than trying to deal with bi-law enforcement. Unless they want to privatize the VPD this really shouldn’t be your concern with the exception of private property issues which would be Genesis Security’s concern.

    As for beating you up with words, I think I reserved the right. And concerning your comment about chipping in and helping out, I rarely call your people if there’s a potential for violence in my neighbourhood anymore, just call me gun-shy.

    The bottom line in my eye here is that you have taken on a contract that you should have left alone. The city/province and federal governments are primarily at fault for not properly defining your situation so that all the ambassadors have to be is eyes and ears for the police in public areas, period (other than tourist guides of course). The blind leading the blind leading the blind, being lead by Mr. Scrooge whose only goal is to keep us off balance so he can make more money. As for Mr. Gauthier, anyone who makes off the cuff comments on TV really shouldn’t be the Executive Director of the Mickey Mouse Club. (note the period) much less our primary BIA.

    The only thing you err on the side of is “cover our asses”-always. Yes I don’t doubt you have people working for you that are very professional but it is very easy to mar such professionalism with a few bad seeds whom you should have never hired for longer than a probationary period. So as I’ve stated, the problem seems to filter down from the top.

    As for your last point, the question was “Who should pay for them?” This has to be determined by why they are really out there and whether or not the readers even feel that they should be viable at all so of course observations are going to be questioned when they seem invalid or uncertain.

    GMGW, I actually heard of a number of complaints about the “goon squad” mentality you spoke of prior to the ambassadors arrival in Gastown, though I have to admit Concorde (Waterfront) and Paladin (Robson Square) seemed pretty much in the same boat, admittedly mostly here-say to myself though. Also bear in mind that the ambassador contract used to belong to Paladin several years ago, I don’t recall exactly how long ago.

    I have noticed that a number of the ambassadors that roam the streets downtown seem either like happy green around the gills youth who are more likely to wet themselves in a crisis situation than actually perform their duties in a fluid and appropriate manner (what ever that is). Others are stoic, if not goonish and unethical in nature. Stoic I can handle but sometimes it’s difficult to differentiate between someone who won’t smile and someone who is miserable or angry.

    JEANNETTE M, I have heard that the GBIA lost Paladin in Gastown not because they were doing a bad job but because of a cheaper contract bid by the ambassadors. The Paladin crew consisted mainly of Dale, Kerry, Sean, Nigel (who you may still see as an ambassador), Mike and a few other faces over about a six year period. In the last eleven months I have seen as many ambassadors down here as I ever saw while Paladin held the contract. How any of the floaters (from other areas) are supposed to know all the shop and street peoples names as indicated in this thread is beyond me.

    As for other community involvement the ambassadors don’t spend as much time with the street people socially as Paladin used to but I have to admit seeing them make some attempt. Once I saw Dale (Paladin) stopped to chat with a street person for 40 minutes socially.

    As well I have never seen an ambassador smoking in public though it’s not something I’m wary of, Paladin used to go into the alleys to eat, drink or smoke. I often visit Starbucks too and though I have seen the ambassador come in to sweet talk the ladies, they usually seem to be talking business, buying a coffee or using the facilities.

    The main ambassador in Gastown (Rob) is always stoic but I have to admit I have never seen him abuse anyone or heard of such an incident concerning him. I do give you full credits for asking for beat cops to be placed in Gastown because of it’s location to drug central and it’s high tourist volume, City Hall should really be providing the proper help.

    Many of your points I know to be valid and I’ll take your word on the others, with a grain of salt of course. You would think that they would have a generic map to hand out to visitors, with Gastown in the middle and highlights to Chinatown (with Sun Yat Sen), Skytrain (Seabus), Canada Place… Maybe in the future once the greenway is through.

    I totally sympathize with your problems in Gastown, though I have personally seen more indiscretions by the Ambassadors in the downtown core. It’s kind of like witnessing some minor crime going on and then having to fill out a one or two page statement for the police, it’s often just not worth your time.

    As for accrediting the Ambassadors with any changes, I don’t know, the area is always in a state of “flux” (a joke about the restaurant no longer across from Hill’s Native Arts) and gentrification has been ongoing since the early 1970’s. I do understand that the Ambassadors are not a treatment for the problem, just an attempt to shovel it elsewhere so others can deal with it. We wouldn’t need them if the various organizations designed to help them in our society (probably in the thousands) treated them like humans not problemed children or worse, babies (lets give them drugs to passify them). Many of the folks who are not mentally infirmed could be reintegrated into our society again if the powers that be could integrate and maximize the available resources, but that’s another story.

    DAVE JONES, what do you expect when you don’t set a good example for your employees??? And for bloody sakes where did you learn to write like that, Wonderland, what a load of drivel?

    Of course the ambassadors aren’t monsters, particular ones just need appropriate constructive guidance and someone who manages them who doesn’t give the benefit of the doubt to thugs or the misguided, at least for more than a trial bases. A particular hope of mine is that the individual who attacked me personally was one of the people who you indicate “made the wrong choice and have left the program because it does not suit their personality.”

    As for your attempt to placate your readers by stating that open drug use and sales had been curtailed, I think that perhaps we might just find you stoned behind a Smythrite in Blood alley or laying in a hovel on Cordova Street. Yes a majority of the dealing has stopped in front of the SRO hotels by Subway but not all of it, and the smell of grass is still thick in the air on Water.

    As for aggressive panhandlers (and druggies) that weren’t their in February but were in July, hmmm, why do you think that was, seasonal changes perhaps??? By the way, it’s now June and guess what…LUCY they’re back!!! Darn, there go those precious stats.

    I don’t know where you got the idea about ambassadors on Commercial Drive (subterfuge???), and I guess the chalk talk just reinforces what’s been stated here, the Ambassadors need more guidance from their bosses if they are to further (?) become a welcome and able member of the community.

    As for your comment about the many red and black uniform wearing security agencies, please give us an example of one other than Fusion that isn’t in-house, thanks.

    A DAVE, yes, I watched from my Cordova Street window last summer as one of the sparkling new (a week or two old) Gastown ambassador (with his buddy, and yes they were ambassadors) bent down at Carroll and Cordova Street writing something on the sidewalk not fifteen feet from the methadone clinic. When I left my place only minutes later I noticed a similar sign as to the one you indicated in chalk had been left by them. I couldn’t understand why they would want to do something so bizarre to alienate themselves like that. Unfortunately I did not ask them why they did so the next time I saw them. I also found one a block away on Cordova at Abbott Street.

    As for your last remarks about the gassed pub n club patrons and bad dog owners, yup been there too. Paladin used to be out on weekends until 10 pm on Fri. n Sat., I don’t know how late the ambassadors are. I don’t think the amabassadors could do much about the drunks though, except get beat up. A larger VPD presence now though.

    They really should to put Porta-Potties out in the party areas, though they would probably just get overturned like everything else. As for the pooping puppies, I’ve embarrassed a few with a camera (as well as slowed speed freaks on Water).
    STEPHANIE, you go girl, what was Dave Jones thinking? Like I’ve stated previously, I have only had a few problems with the ambassadors but that’s enough considering the magnitude of the crime and any closure I have yet to find. My concerns about area drug dealers parallels yours as well though I think that things will probably morph into yet another form once the greenway between Gassy Jack and Cordova Street is fully finished. Fewer places will be available for watchers to keep-six for the dealers without the fencing and the police will have use of the alley again to chase potentials through again. This is something else Dave Jones neglected to factor into his assumptions about how much change the ambassadors have actually created within the region.

    As for Sharon Townsend’s comment about complaints, she is technically the Executive Director of the South Granville BIA, not Dave Jones’s DVBIA (the main one downtown) who hasn’t made any claim of the sort (I don’t wonder why). They (the DVBIA) has made claims in the past that were a bit of an eyebrow lifter in stating that the many complaints that they had received to date (2008) had been “dealt with amicably” or something such.

    I’m not sure what you meant by sanctions, I assume you mean imposing fines on them or limiting their size? Anyway, I certainly like the thought of the DVBIA being more accountable, even if it’s forced upon them.

    NANCY (aka money coach), I have to wonder if the mass police presence at the Modern at 1am isn’t to protect the tow truck drivers as they haul away a row of $70,000+ cars. Oh well, three years ago they only showed up five minutes into a blood brawl.

    As for the ambassadors I sympathize with the homeless when they are harassed but in playing devils advocate loitering is illegal, though I think that the ambassadors should be obtaining (at the time or prior to) the land or business owners consent to “move people along”. I think there is a law concerning loitering under awnings on sidewalks as well.

    As for your last comment about training, yes the problem starts at the top, not the bottom, you can’t blame individuals who are told to do their jobs in a certain way or given a minimal of guidance.

    Something else that bothers me about the law in our berg is that when tourists get ripped off the perpetrators only have to deal with a few hours of jail and court because visitors won’t be in town for the trial date. I’m also almost expecting the laws to become so lax here that criminals are given finger shakes for sentences (or belly rubs if you really want to go left-wing).

  • CWYL

    I told one of the Gastown business owners about this string the day after I posted and he said he saw two ambassadors having a puchfest, get this, with each other on Smithe Street, and one of them was a female. Yet another head-shaker/black mark for the redcoats.