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South Granville’s security blanket

April 4, 2014

A South Granville seeing-eye doge?

You know what they say, you can never be too rich or too security.

South Granville is a shopping district with a few homeless people—myself included—and a whole lot of private security guards. Basically all of the guards are tasked with the same job: protecting the shops and the shoppers.

Mostly that means deterring theft, catching shoplifters and nipping “street disorder” in the bud. But the guys doing security on South Granville—they’re all guys—are not robots, they each have very different personalities and very different ideas of how to do their job—and that difference is where things can get interesting.

Guarding against the cowboy mentality

Two of South Granville’s security guards show how differently the same basic job brief can be interpreted, for better and for worse.

Guard A has been on the job for only a handful of months, is in his early 30s and could be described as a bit of a go-getter and an eager beaver. He is also uniquely and surprisingly qualified to deal with the street problems he encounters.

Guard B is older, a dour, taciturn man, he’s been on the job for a few years so he should be the more experienced of the two. He’s as slow-moving as his colleague is fast.

You might think the young guard would be the problem: inexperienced, over-eager, willing to over-step his authority but no, it’s the older guard who turns out to have been nursing a bit of a cowboy complex, believing his job entails running the street people out of Dodge, er, South Granville—which, I should emphasize, it does not.

I have to say that I’ve never been a fan of the older guard. When he first started. He would come into the McDonald’s when I was there and he would stand by the door and seemingly just glare at me. It was unnerving and it took me a while to realize he did that with all homeless people, perhaps all people period. He also liked to surreptitiously take photographs of the South Granville homeless. Like I said, unnerving but I got used to him.

I only go into businesses as a paying customer so I shouldn’t be his problem. And anyway, he’s just doing the job he’s paid to do, right?

And even so, security guards should be to street people like park rangers are to cartoon bears: a fact of life that can affect the quality of our lives only if we let them.

The new guard versus the old guard

The younger guard stood out from the start by his activity. Where other guards plod he sprints. When I got to talking to him I found him to be intelligent, well-spoken and polite and very determined to do his job the right way.

I was startled to hear him describe his interactions with panhandlers and homeless people in the very specific, delimited, terms of B.C.’s 2004 Safe Streets Act, the short British Columbia law provincial legislators copied almost verbatim from Ontario’s 1999 law of the same name.

The Safe Streets Act was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction, seen by critics as a heavy-handed response to the growth of homelessness and panhandling.

Whatever the Act was intended to do it certainly didn’t deter panhandling, though it did severely cut down on “squeegee kids.” It may even have done panhandlers a favour by clarifying the legal limits of begging on the street.

The prodigal panhandler returns to our narrative

The young guard explained to me how my one particular panhandling friend stayed well withing the definition of legal panhandling.

As defined by B.C.’s Safe Streets Act, illegal panhandling is any solicitation that…would cause a “reasonable” person to be uncomfortable or feel threatened…or takes advantage of a so-called captive audience, such as panning in traffic or following behind or beside a person…or continues after a person has said “no”…or occurs without permission on private property.

My friend panhandles on public property. He sits quietly and communicates his solicitation using his hand-lettered cardboard sign. He makes eye-contact with passers-by and will respond to questions but he will not initiate  conversations.

He’s precisely in line with the legal guidelines which could be said to prefer panhandlers the way Victorians preferred their children: to be seen and not heard and to only speak when spoken too.

That’s what we street people get for all our impulsive, self-indulgent behaviour. Act like children and soon enough someone will pass a law that treats you that way.

The young guard said that in fact businesses on the strip expressed no problem with my friend or the way he panhandled.

The older guard however, expressed many problems with my friend; a fact the young guard was beginning to find problematic.

A good cop, bad cop kind of thing

What the young guard was worried about was that the older guard seemed to be making false accusations against my friend; effectively inventing incidents to make my friend look like a bad character, like a dangerous homeless person who should be run off the strip for good.

What the younger guard was hearing was that the older guard’s reports included incidents of aggressive, threatening behaviour on the part of my friend that were completely out of character.

One particular incident had my friend verbally threatening a store employee. The young guard went to the trouble of taking a photo of my friend and showing it to the store employee who unequivocally said it wasn’t a photo of the person who threatened them.

I was present at an encounter between the older guard and my friend, who admittedly got hot under the collar when he realized the guard was taking his picture.

My friend used rude language but that’s hardly illegal — the guard called the police anyway.

The responding Vancouver Police officer spoke at length with the older guard. When the officer came over and spoke to us, I think my friend and I were equally surprised by what the officer said to us.

He all but declared the guard to be crazy and explained that my friend, being an experienced, long-time, homeless person, would have to act with forbearance and put up with the guard who appeared to have some kind of grudge.

Okay. We guessed that last part but it was surprising to hear a police officer side with a homeless person against the word of a security guard. But then, this guard does radiate an obsessive dislike of homeless people.

I can believe he would expect to be able to get away with saying almost  anything against a person living on the street. Who’s word would you think carried more weight?

Who’d believe getting clocked by a stapler?

Wind the clock back to 2006. I watched as a clerk in the Mac’s convenience store at Hemlock Street and West Broadway Avenue threw a heavy stapler at my friend who’d foolishly come back into the store to argue about the clerk’s refusal to take back some returnable pop bottles. My friend was only a step or two inside the front entrance when the clerk threw the staple overhand from behind the counter. It hit him a glancing blow on the side of the head and he dropped—”owwww“—like a sack of potatoes.

An ambulance was very slow to arrive. Police took so long I couldn’t wait. A day later my friend told me no one believed his story. They believed the clerk who denied the incident. Curiously the store’s video cameras had not been recording during the time of the incident — at least there was no recording.

I was disgusted and provided as detailed a written witness statement as I could. A few month later, officers on patrol in the Point Grey neighbourhood encountered the two of us in a back alley and, in the course of running our names, indicated that the clerk had actually been charged. I don’t think that was true actually, but  all the same I never saw that clerk in Mac’s ever again.

The point is simply that as a homeless person and a drug addict, my friend had two major strikes against his creditability before he even opened his mouth.

So having a police officer take his word against the word of a security guard is amazing enough but to further have another security guard actively championing his innocence is F’ing extraordinary.

Been there. Done that

But the young security guard is somewhat extraordinary himself. Not only is he something of an overgrown boy scout, he’s—get ready for it—a self-admitted recovered heroin addict himself—he says he’s over two years clean, with one small relapse,

So he knows firsthand what every drug addicted panhandler goes through; he’s lived the cycle of addiction. He’s intimately familiar with the highs and lows. Particularly, he has body-knowledge of being dope sick — going through heroin withdrawal.

He’s compassionate rather than soft. He’s heard the sob stories (maybe some of them out of his own mouth). The end result is that he doesn’t treat street people as aliens or animals or victims. He treats them like the people they actually are.

He also sees them as potential allies in his quest to keep the real villains and predators off his street.

The older guard, from what I hear, may actually be scared of all street people, which makes his behaviour more understandable but no less wrong.

South Granville is big in security

South Granville is all about shopping so the goal of security is twofold: to encourage people shopping and discourage people stealing.

The security is layered, but not so much by plan. The businesses may or may not individually employ their own security guards but collectively, through their membership in the area’s Business Improvement Association, they pay for daily security foot patrols of the strip and the flanking alleys, also for a two-person team of plain-clothed Loss Prevention Officers.

The most obvious security guards are uniformed and work for the banks, of which there are nine along South Granville, and one credit union.

The bank guards variously stand outside the entrance or just inside the foyer by the ATM machines. They are bored sentinels who appear to do little more than provide a presence. The main job is probably not to stop bank robberies but to prevent aggressive panhandling of bank customers.

Although, they haven’t been doing such a good job. I’ve been told by one security guard that a particular panhandler was, up until about two months ago, getting away with borderline intimidation. He was able to go right up to and solicit people while they were using the ATM in at least one bank.

The panhandler in question told me that he never tries to intimidate and that the guard is full of sh*t. And it’s just possible that the panhandler, who tops 6-feet is unaware of how asymentrical it appears when he approaches a much smaller woman coming out of an ATM room.

In fact, the Safe Streets Act prohibits panhandling near an Automated Teller for the very reason that it is inherently aggressive and threatening.

The guard who told me about it says he put a stop to the panhandler’s tactic as soon as he came on the job.

Banks and their open door policy toward the homeless

Seven or eight years ago bank branches throughout all Fairview, Kitsilano and perhaps all Vancouver kept the street doors to their ATM rooms locked after business hours. The doors had special card-reading locks. Bank customers could use their bank cards to open the doors. This was a measure specifically meant to stop homeless people from sleeping in the nice warm ATM rooms.

And it worked — at least for a few days — until it was discovered any card with a magnetic strip could open any of the doors — a supermarket points card, even a bus transfer.

So now ATMs access is unlocked 24-hours-a- day along South Granville and I know homeless people can get a good night’s sleep of about six hours in at least two of them.

 Shop ’til you drop or lift — one of those

The stores of South Granville are predominantly upscale but it’s no Rodeo Drive.The strip serves the wealthy neighbourhood of Shaughnessy which begins on the south end at 16th Avenue. But it also serves its own neighbourhood of Fairview and it draws in a hoi poloi of transit riders—Broadway Avenue and Granville Street being a major intersection of bus routes.

There are a sprinkling of art galleries on either end and a predominance of clothing stores heavily weighted towards women’s wear.

There are four notable chain stores — from north to south: a Chapter’s bookstore, an Aritzia TNA, a Shopper’s Drug Mart and an American Apparel.

Sometimes the LPOs get lucky

South Granville is a sort of honey pot that attracts it’s share of undesirable flies—panhandlers, shoplifters, pickpockets, cutpurses—it’s very Dickensian the way the lowest and highest classes of society mingle on South Granville.

Basically thieves are constantly trying to steal things from both the shops and the shoppers of South Granville.

That’s where Loss Prevention Officers (LPOs) come in, at least where shoplifting is concerned. Unlike regular security guards who’s brief is to observe, record and, if necessary, call the police, LPOs are a species of security guard who are trained  to catch, detain and handcuff alleged shoplifters. They do their job in plainclothes so as to be inconspicuous.

Near as I can tell the South Granville Business Association’s LPOs all wear dark clothing, good shoes and baseball caps.

The large, two-floor, Chapters bookstore on the southwest corner of Broadway and Granville is constantly battling shoplifters. The store employs its own LPOs and gets a lot of attention from the LPOs employed by the SGBIA.

The Shoppers Drug Mart four blocks south on the northeast corner of 13th Avenue and Granville Street is another major target for shoplifters — I’ve even heard the location referred to as “Shoplifter’s Drug Mart.”

Professional shoplifters go in with shopping lists provided by customers back in the Downtown Eastside. Unlikely items are commonly targeted:  toiletries like razor blades and white strips for instance, which can be as good as cash for buying drugs downtown. Just yesterday a nicely dressed young fellow was caught red-handed putting a $20 box of Depends undergarments in his backpack. The way a guard explained it to me the fellow could’ve done with wearing a pair of the adult diapers he was so scared when he was caught. No idea if they were for him or someone else

It’s a fair bet that Shoppers employs in-house LPOs. I’m told that the SGBIA’s LPOs who used to be stationed there tended to spend a lot of their time macking on the women running the cosmetics counter — who can blame them, they sure smell purdy!

All the chain stores apparently  are particular targets of shoplifters and it’s likely they all have loss prevention programs in place. As for the Loss Prevention Officers, I’ve been told they are very good at catching shoplifters.

The high cost of growing a shopping district

The South Granville Business Improvement Association’s 2013 Annual Report briefly covers the Association’s use of private security.

First off, the street patrol program, formerly called the “South Granville Ambassadors” was renamed the “South Granville Concierge Team.” Apparently “Ambassador” had too much meaning whereas “Concierge” — a French term for a building attendant that has no more exact parallel in North America than “Walmart greeter” — was just meaningless enough.

The program is run by the SGBIA using personel from Genesis Security.

In 2013, the report says the Concierge Team clocked over 5,300 hours of patrols. Their duties included:

  • Providing visitor assistance
  • Providing “safe walk” services to merchants and customers.
  • patrolling the South Granville strip and parking lots and “specific trouble spots”
  • Reporting on street disorder, graffiti, garbage
  • Meeting with merchants

2013 was the first year of the SGBIA’s Loss Prevention Program involving two teams of two LPOs working two days a week.

In 2013 the South Granville Business Improvement Association listed their expenditure on security programs as $139,038, a nearly 12% increase over 2012. It was their largest budget line item and over 24% of their total revenue of $567,572.

Security guards were closely followed in 2013 by flowers and shrubs. The Street Beautification program cost $102,350, over 10% more than 2012.

Junk and disorderly

Speaking of street disorder, yesterday evening I was wondering if the evening Concierge encountered the barefoot guy who I saw walk past my window seat in McDonald’s. He was making his way west toward the corner of Broadway and Granville. He had a pair of pants…but he wasn’t exactly wearing them; they were wrapped around his waist. And although he wasn’t wearing his shoes he had them in his hand. He was holding them behind his back so he could demurely cover his bum.

In hindsight — drum roll please — he could’ve made do with one shoe in the back so he could use the other one to deal with the little matter up front. Click the image to enlarge it.

From → Fairview

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