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A police presence at Bank and Somerset

The mayor and the police chief insisted we needed more cops, so we got more cops even though we couldn’t really afford them. Never mind that the crime rate has been falling for years. It’s just a demographic reality that crime rates drop as populations age, because people tend to outgrow criminal tendencies.

But as long as the mayor and the chief of police can perpetuate the perception that crime is on the rise, they can keep saying we need more cops. (It’s nothing new, and it’s not just here, either. It has been going on for years all over North America, and it’s fueled in part by prime time TV shows that portray our cities as terribly dangerous places, chock full of brilliant and demented serial killers on murderous rampages.) But it’s kind of a Catch-22, isn’t it? It’s in the police department’s best interests not to do a very good job, because higher crime rates serve its purposes better than lower crime rates.

So now that we’ve increased the police budget and hired more cops, what are we going to do with them? We don’t have a major crime problem here in Ottawa for them to focus on. We have almost no murders and even fewer brilliant and demented serial killers on murderous rampages. All we’ve got is a couple hundred crack addicts to harass.

Bank and SomersetWell, how about that fiasco at Somerset and Bank? The intersection has been closed in four directions for four weeks, ever since the interior of the old Ritz Hotel caved in. Not only is it closed, but it’s heavily guarded by 1-4 police officers at all times. At first it was usually two cruisers and two officers; now it’s more commonly one of each. But when you think about it, a permanent round-the-clock police presence is a crazy lot of money.

Why do we need a full-time police presence there anyway? They just seem to be doing the job of security guards. I’ve seen it at other construction sites too – a bored-looking officer sitting in an idling car all day, doing nothing, just putting in their time.

It’s not their fault, they’re just doing their jobs. But surely the security guard type jobs could be handled by less expensive and less skilled labour?

I just checked to see how much police officers in Ottawa earn. They don’t earn much to start – $36,540.19 per year. But don’t feel too sorry for them, because in three years – assuming favourable performance reviews – they almost double their salary to $71,197.32. I’d call that a meteoric rise through the ranks.

I wonder how much security guards make?

Apart from the expense of having a fairly major downtown intersection closed for four weeks and counting, there’s also the inconvenience sustained by some businesses and individuals. For example, the Dollar-It store next door (where Big Buds used to be) has been closed for four weeks. What happened to their minimum wage workers? What’s going to happen to the store, losing a month’s business? (I wonder if it’s covered by insurance?) And then there’s all the rerouted buses, detours, traffic pressure on neighbouring intersections, and so on.

On the other hand, it’s kind of nice in a way. It’s very peaceful and quiet and I don’t have to wait for the light anymore. Manifesto Multilinko says “I think it’s awesome actually – instant pedestrian zone with heavy police presence. Best thing that ever happened to the intersection.”

I’m not sure I’d go that far. It’s an awfully expensive intersection these days. According to Councillor Diane Holmes, the first two weeks cost over $300,000; this would put us at about $600,000 now. If we’re going to turn it into a pedestrian mall, let’s at least plant a few trees.

I think the city should take another look at policing. Let’s define the crime problems in this city factually and honestly, and then try to figure out how to realistically address them. And we should look at how we want to use our police resources. Do we want cops sitting at a closed intersection 24 hours a day for a month? Do we need a cop at the corner of Gladstone and Bell handing out tickets to cyclists? Or should we be using our cops exclusively for crime-related activities, including prevention?


17 comments to A police presence at Bank and Somerset

  • In 1995, I took a year long course at the masters level called “Crime control and public policy”. It was ever thus that every generation, we are told crime is going up and the pendulum swings between rehabilitation and punishment. Politicians are not generally policy wonks and they don’t look at history (or reality for that matter). On another matter, it is my understanding that security guards make minimum wage (maybe a few cents more, if they manage not to get fired in the first few weeks). But you do usually get what you pay for.

  • You’re right about that pendulum Julia. Unfortunately it only swings back and forth between punishment and the *illusion* of rehabilitation. Ideologically, there might be some periodic cyclical movement towards the *concept* of rehabilitation, but prisons are hard-wired for punishment.

  • I have to admit I didn’t really think too much about it in terms of costs, I’m just generally anti-car so any time any road is closed I’m happy. My preference would be for beat cops and a massive increase in help for homeless / drug addicted etc., because while I agree the crime rate is low, there are an assortment of sketchy or dysfunctional characters wandering around the area. Beat cops is mainly to help those who need help, and to make people feel safer. When people feel safer there are more people out, which actually makes it safer. It is dumb for the cops to sit in the cars but (at least before it got cold anyway) I saw them standing and talking to people a lot.

  • It’s been swinging towards punishment for quite a few years now – it’s overdue for a reversal. The collective appetite for vengeance must have some limits.

  • Alex

    I’m wondering if the developer is paying for any of these costs. It’s his responsibility, not the taxpayers of Ottawa. Having policemen spending their time and our money guarding it, is just plain goofy and a waste of time and money. It’s a good point about the store next door – its losing money, the people who work there aren’t being paid to stay home, are we paying for that, too?

  • Richard – I’d rather see more beat cops than car cops (?), but I’m not sure homelessness and addiction should be a police matter as much as a social services and public health matter.

  • Alex, my understanding is that the store is not being compensated by the taxpayers and in all likelihood the employees are not being paid and have probably moved on to other jobs by now. The store could probably try to recoup its losses from the owner of the old hotel, but I’m not sure how that works.

  • Not on the subject of policing, but… I can’t see the old hotel surviving this. Whatever the “reno” was supposed to consist of, it’s clearly not even half done, and now the building is gutted and open to the weather. I suspect the owner is trying to come up with a reason to knock it down. Most likely it’s worth more as vacant land for development than as a heritage hotel.

  • Robin – I don’t hold out much hope for the Ritz either. But the longer it goes without being slated for demolition, the better I think its chances are. If their intention is just to demolish it, wouldn’t they have gone that route already? But yeah, it’s open to the elements and obviously can’t stay that way. I hope they save it. I rented a room in there once, many years ago – top floor, northwest corner, looking out on Bank Street. I think it was the first time I ever slept in a hotel.

  • You’d think so Zoom, but as we learned down here on Cambridge St., sometimes it takes a lot of fires before you’re allowed to demolish an old building.

  • Prisons are definitely for punishment – no rehab there! The rehab part often comes with the sentencing, when people don’t get sent to prison but have to do other things. Speaking of prisons, I have often thought that instead of weight rooms that only increase the testosterone, they should have yoga classes. It makes perfect sense when you think about it.

  • Alex

    Thanks for that information Zoom, and back to Sommerset and Bank… Who is the contractor? Is there a time line for him to complete whatever must be done to open the street again? Who makes the rules here? Is the City enforcing regulations or just letting it happen as it plays out? Where do I get this information? It’s getting tedious for those of us who live here and have to chase busses that have been re-routed. I’m sure the drivers of emergency vehicles are thrilled with this too. Or, am I just cranky?

  • Julia – I love the yoga class idea!

    Alex – I don’t know who the contractor is. If you want more information, I’d suggest contacting Diane Holmes – I believe she’s your city councillor if you live in the vicinity of Bank and Somerset. Please let us know if you learn anything new about the plans for the intersection. (Chris at the Second Cup says it’s definitely affecting his business, by the way.)

    You can reach her here:


    110 Laurier Avenue West
    Ottawa, Ontario K1P 1J1


  • Alex

    I emailed her office yesterday, and will pass along any information I receive from her. Am in agreement with the yoga classes too, great idea.

  • Alex

    No answer from Ms. Holmes to date.

  • Alex, you might find Kelly Egan’s column in today’s Citizen interesting.