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New 5-person security team will aim to prevent vandalism, crime in Cambridge

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A new five-person security team will soon roll out in the City of Cambridge, keeping an eye on crime in city parks, arenas and recreation centres.

If successful, they’ll prevent and deter crime during all hours of the day and night, ultimately saving the city money it would spend on vandalism fixes.

“In 2023, we spend almost a million dollars on vandalism, graffiti, unwanted behaviour and activities at our facilities and arenas,” John Mattocks, the manager of municipal bylaw compliance for the City of Cambridge, said.

“This is to help reduce those costs and be proactive in stopping some of the bad activities that we’ve been noticing.”

City council voted unanimously in favour of creating the team during 2024 budget deliberations.

It will patrol both in a vehicle and on foot, focusing on city-owned properties. The city said since 2020, there’s been an increase in vandalism-related calls.

Ward 3 councillor Corey Kimpson said this should make for a safer, more inclusive community for everyone.

Standing in Preston’s Central Park, she said she’s seen first-hand what is happening on city-owned property.

“In the summer, we have a Porta Potty that’s placed over by the small gazebo, right by the splash pad. It was tipped over multiple times, as well as lit on fire. So that certainly made for an unpleasant environment,” Kimpson said.

“We also have some graffiti inside the gazebo.”

Because the team will work 24/7, they should be able to respond to nuisance calls quickly, when bylaw officers aren’t available.

“The idea is that there’s going to be coverage where it was lacking previously, and they’re going to fill that void between the ambassador team that we see specifically in the core areas [and] the Waterloo regional police, who have their own dispatch and their own issues to attend to,” Kimpson said.

“They’ll also proactively be out throughout the entire city, not just the core areas.”

The team will cost about $151,000 annually to operate, in addition to one time payments for a vehicle, equipment and training.

As a result, the city said average homeowners will pay about $2.13 each year for the program.

Previously, the city was spending money to hire security workers through a third party.

“To keep up with some of the demands and the issues that we were facing, we did have to hire some contract security guards and we’ve spent approximately $210,000 on part-time security guards and overtime for staff,” Mattocks said, referring to 2023.

Councillors are emphasizing that the team will not be targeting any specific people or groups.

“One of the key questions I did approach staff with was ‘is this a team that is in any way going to affect unhoused persons or marginalized persons,’” Ward 7 councillor Scott Hamilton said.

“Their answer was an emphatic ‘no.’ This is just targeting anyone who’s in a city park that’s creating unlawful behaviour, and the goal is to act as a deterrent.”

Hamilton said the team will be trained in equality, diversity and inclusion, and de-escalation.

“They’d be able to connect people to the proper regional support and outreach persons so they can get help,” Hamilton said.

The city said the goal is to have the team hired, trained and in action by summer 2024.

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