Trail patrol program expanding with new unit for Fredericton's north side

Community safety service unit members Robert Smith (left), Luc Levesque (middle) and Seth Hajdu (right) were part of the unit when it started in spring 2023. (Jeanne Armstrong/CBC News - image credit)
Community safety service unit members Robert Smith (left), Luc Levesque (middle) and Seth Hajdu (right) were part of the unit when it started in spring 2023. (Jeanne Armstrong/CBC News - image credit)

Fredericton is planning to expand a program that involves hiring private security guards to patrol the multi-use trails and report sightings of homeless tent encampments to police.

The program, dubbed the community safety services unit, will be expanded this year to include a team of security guards dedicated to patrolling the city's north side, said Brad Cameron, assistant director of safety services, speaking to councillors during a committee meeting Thursday.

"There is funding available apparently, to expand the team for this year. So we are working with the service provider right now to deploy an additional team.

"The plan is to have dedicated teams on each side of the [St. John] River, so effectively we're doubling the size of this team and that will allow for a lot more of the trail work that ... time doesn't allow for now."

The program was introduced last year as a seasonal pilot program aimed at encouraging trail etiquette and discouraging vandalism, theft and the proliferation of tent encampments.

Brad Cameron, Fredericton assistant director of safety services, said a pilot project to hire private security to patrol the downtown was a success.
Brad Cameron, Fredericton assistant director of safety services, said a pilot project to hire private security to patrol the downtown was a success.

Brad Cameron, Fredericton's assistant director of safety services, said more private security guards will be hired to exclusively patrol the city's north side. (Lars Schwarz/CBC)

It was met with mixed reaction, with business representatives expressing satisfaction with the results, while at least one harm-reduction advocate warned it could drive vulnerable people away from areas where supports can be accessed.

Another layer of criticism came toward the end of last year's season, with some complaining that the unit's officers were focused more on the south side and not giving equal attention to areas of the north side around Main and Union streets.

Cameron's update on Thursday appears to have taken some of those latter concerns into account, with the announcement of a team dedicated to the north side.

Getting it established, however, is still a work in progress. Cameron said his office is still working to recruit those security guards, and then train and equip them with e-bikes.

"So we'll work at that as quickly as we can, but I wouldn't want to put a date on that right now," he said.

As part of budget deliberations last fall, Fredericton city councillors had agreed to spend $600,000 on the program this year — the same amount it spent in 2023.

CBC News asked for an interview with Cameron, but he wasn't made available following his presentation.

In an email, city spokesperson Elizabeth Fraser said salary savings allowed the city to allocate an extra $200,000 for the unit to create the second team.

Fraser said the new team wouldn't result in a doubling of the overall costs, as there are overhead costs that do not need to be duplicated.

Work so far this year

During his presentation, Cameron also offered councillors a snapshot of the work the unit has done since it began for the season in March.

Report summaries for five days in April showed members of the unit responded to several calls where they "moved along" people either panhandling, loitering or sleeping in areas that included near Government House, Wilmot Park, the Small Craft Qquatic Centre and the Boyce Farmers Market.

Brad Cameron, assistant director of safety services for the city, said members with the unit have helped clear out 48 tent encampments so far this season.
Brad Cameron, assistant director of safety services for the city, said members with the unit have helped clear out 48 tent encampments so far this season.

Brad Cameron says members with the unit have helped clear out 48 tent encampments so far this season. (City of Fredericton)

Other report summaries from May show members responded to people trespassing at Tim Hortons, a theft at an undisclosed location, and a case of a fire started near the water tower behind the Oak Centre homeless shelter.

Cameron said when it comes to tent encampments, the role of the unit is to report them to police, who then bring in outreach workers to try to connect the residents with support services.

He said so far this year, members have responded to 48 encampments. From April to October of last year, they responded to a total of 116 encampments, he said.

Fredericton police Chief Martin Gaudet says security camera footage was crucial in leading to the arrest of a man charged with intentionally setting fire to a historically significant building.
Fredericton police Chief Martin Gaudet says security camera footage was crucial in leading to the arrest of a man charged with intentionally setting fire to a historically significant building.

Fredericton police Chief Martin Gaudet says the community safety services unit has helped take a load off what his officers would otherwise have to deal with. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Asked during the meeting about his thoughts on the unit, Chief Martin Gaudet of Fredericton police said it's allowed officers to focus on more serious cases.

"The team has been instrumental in public safety and well-being for our community," Gaudet said.

"There's clearly enough work out there for them and I'm happy to see that it's being bumped up by a few members and we'll see a balance on the north side and south side."