The clock is ticking on nearly $3 million in federal funding designed to address gang and gun violence in Burnaby, but exactly what the city is doing with the money is still unclear.
Burnaby signed an agreement with Public Safety Canada in November for $2.96 million from the federal Building Safer Communities Fund, first announced in March, according to the city’s general manager of community safety, Dave Critchley.
The program is available until March 31, 2026, and there’s a chance some of the money could be left on the table if it’s not used by then, according to Critchley.
Critchley first told the city’s public safety committee in April that Burnaby was eligible to apply for up to about $2.9 million from the Building Safer Communities Fund to “develop custom community-driven initiatives to address gun and gang activities.”
The allocation was based on the nature and frequency of gun and gang violence in Burnaby, Critchley said in his report.
Eight gang killings, 20 gang shootings in three years
The city saw a spike in gang violence starting in about 2020, according to former officer in charge, Chief Supt. Deanne Burleigh.
She told the public safety committee in July 2020 some kinds of crime, such as property crime, had gone down, but incidents of violent crime had jumped.
“There have been shootings, attempted murders, carjackings, kidnappings, and we’ve seen a push for some of the gangs to come into Burnaby,” Burleigh said.
That year would see nine confirmed gang shootings and one gang killing, according to the Burnaby RCMP.
In 2021, four shootings and four homicides were linked to gangs, and in 2022, gang violence was behind three more deaths and seven shootings.
Between March 2021 and January 2022, the NOW reported on three separate incidents of men arrested with loaded handguns at busy Metrotown mall.
‘Many other opportunities'
In January 2021, Burnaby RCMP carved a gang enforcement team out of its existing resources, but the Building Safer Communities Fund money can’t be used to pay for any costs already funded through the city’s police service agreement, according to Critchley.
“We can’t use the funding, we can’t make an application to receive funding to pay police salaries,” Critchley told the public safety committee in April. “That being said, there are many other opportunities that we’re very excited about and in discussions with Public Safety about.”
Nearly nine months later, however, specifics about initiatives and programs the city is funding with the new federal money are in short supply.
The first year of the program ends June 30, and so far the city has promoted its supervisor of crime prevention services Dawn Virginillo into a new manager of crime reduction and intervention position, but her old post has yet to be filled, according to Critchley.
Nonetheless, he said the new manager position represents a net increase in crime prevention resources at the city and will be a “key driver” of the anti-gang and gun violence program through “community engagement, research, managing programs and initiatives, and evaluation.”
When asked what specific anti-gang initiatives and programs were included in the city’s application for the federal funding, Critchley responded by saying the city is in the “preliminary stages” of setting up the program.
Besides creating the new manager’s position, he said the city has “engaged” with the Civic Innovation Lab (a partnership between the city and SFU) and with SFU’s criminology department.
The city is also “developing a metrics and evaluation plan” and a three-year work plan and budget that will drive its “strategy, programs and initiatives.”
Critchley said the city is also “engaging other community partners to determine their role in community safety and how we can assist their programs.”
But no details were provided about specific anti-gang and gun programs or initiatives the city is pursuing or the costs associated with its work on the program so far.
The NOW has made another request for specific details and is waiting to hear back.
Community safety plan
At an announcement about the Building Safer Communities Fund at the Tommy Douglas library Tuesday, Burnaby North–Seymour MP Terry Beech said Burnaby was well poised to make use of the funds.
“The City of Burnaby specifically, who has a well-functioning public safety committee and a public safety action plan, is in tremendous shape to be able to take advantage of these funds and to utilize them efficiently,” Beech said.
But the city’s public safety committee has not met since June.
And, when the city’s community safety plan – which includes sections on preventing youth involvement in gangs – was unveiled in June 2020, a report said the committee would get a progress report every six months for its “review and consideration.”
The report said mayor and council would get an annual report on the status of each initiative and any suggested amendments and additions.
“The Community Safety Plan is intended to be a responsive and timely plan to be amended if and as required by evolving factors in our community,” stated the report.
Over the past two-and-a-half years, there have been a total of two progress reports on the plan.
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Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor