Vancouver mayor hopeful 'overwhelmed' by what he saw on police shift
NPA Coun. Hector Bremner speaks about witnessing death, brokenness during late-night VPD ride-along
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When Vancouver Coun. Hector Bremner spent a late night with local firefighters recently, he suffered what they quipped was the "ride-along curse": nothing but false alarms when a civilian's watching.
That was absolutely not the case on Friday with the Vancouver Police Department, who invited the latest mayoral hopeful on a night that left him shaken, overwhelmed — but also "heartened" at times by what he witnessed.
"We spent the first half of the evening in the Downtown Eastside, spending a lot of time patrolling alleys, going up and down streets, stopping in at businesses and (Single Resident Occupancy hotels) in the area.
"That was quite shocking; if people understood that taxpayers are funding such substandard housing, they'd be very amenable to us taking a bigger and bolder contribution."
But he was dismayed as he went deep into several of the SROs to see the "dismal" living situation tenants endure: rooms with no doors, or hammered-together wood pieces for barriers, no lights in hallways, "the filth and stench were overwhelming."
Bremner, the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) candidate elected to council Oct. 14 in the by-election to replace Vision Vancouver's Geoff Meggs, joined VPD officers Friday night from roughly 9 p.m. until 4 a.m., joined by NPA Coun. Melissa de Genova.
This week, he declared he intends to seek the party's nomination to run for mayor, the only candidate for any party to throw his hat in so far for November's election.
Formerly a staffer of former B.C. Liberal minister responsible for housing Rich Coleman, who faced criticism over long-standing shortages of social housing, Bremner said he supports more city action on the file.
The NPA was heavily criticized in the past year for opposing an increase in property tax to pay for more opioid services, as well as Vision Vancouver's recent new housing plan, which Bremner voted against.
But he insisted what he witnessed Friday wasn't a photo opportunity, but actually shook him deeply.
"We saw a very broken part of our city," he told Metro in a phone interview. But one in which he saw Downtown Eastside residents also laughing and friendly with officers they knew by name, and conversely treated with "grace" and courtesy, he recalled.
But the night took a dark turn too common in recent years.
"We were on partrol and got a call and rushed to the scene," he recounted, describing an incident by the B.C. Hydro headquarters on Georgia Street. "We arrived just in time for a 21-year-old guy to die of a drug overdose.
"It was overwhelming," he said. "Here was someone's son, dead on the ground.
"It was heart-breaking and surreal … Someone passing by knew the man and his parents and we stood there as she made the call to his parents in the middle of the night, standing in the rain."
Witnessing that call, he said, "just reinforced" why he wanted to get involved in politics, he said. He holds his first campaign rally 5 p.m. Friday at Venue nightclub on Granville Street.
"I'm committed to seeing this crisis end, through investing in housing and services we need," he said. "We've seen prosperity grow around us, but there are a lot of vulnerable people being impacted in ways that are quite literally taking their lives.
"We can do better than this."
The second half of Bremner and de Genova's ride-along was spent along the Granville Street strip as nightclubs closed. Despite a heavy police presence in the city's entertainment district following a string of fatal fights, sucker-punch killings, and frequent brawls, the chaos as bar-goers spill into the night has continued.
"Seeing it first-hand was very frustrating," he recalled. "What we saw was inefficiencey of (VPD) members' time at times … There's such an empty void on the street where there is nothing programmed — where people are just rowdy.
"It's forcing away business. I think it typifies the decline of the city in the last 10 years. We did all kinds of work to improve it before the (2010) Games. Now it's like a war-zone."
He hopes politicians of all stripes can get out and meet residents more often, even if they don't spend a late night with first-responders "who shouldn't be the ones dealing with these crises" like mental health, addictions and housing. "They should be the last resort," he said, "not the first."
"A lot of what we talk about is academic," he said. "We know what the statistics are, we know there's a problem, but it was very real standing there and seeing how broken our city has become — that this has become almost normal."
"The election can't happen fast enough. City Hall's just become a place that's stuck in a rut … We keep getting back into hyper, hyper partisan, status quo thinking."