The May Long Weekend is coming, and with it the usual hand-wringing about how the resort is going to respond to the annual influx of thousands of young people, many of them newly minted high-school grads, who come to Whistler every year at this time to get wasted, hook up, scream obscenities off of balconies, and maybe get into a fight.
Overall, things have improved since a working group was created that includes hotels, bar operators and the police. However, the stabbing death of Luka Gordic in 2015 proved that even the best-laid plans can't always prevent the worst from happening.
We can (and do) blame our long weekend problems on Lower Mainland thugs, but that doesn't change the fact that we have more than enough of our own idiots to contend with the rest of the time. A few weeks ago, someone posted an angry message on Facebook about a friend who was savagely beaten by a group of idiots while on his way home from the village on a Tuesday night. About a month before that, an idiot in an orange jacket injured a driver by throwing a chunk of ice off the bridge over Village Gate Boulevard. These dangerous idiots are still at large.
On any given night, there are fights. There is vandalism. There is intimidating behaviour. There is debilitating drunkenness. There are creeps who follow women around. There is knavery. Lecherousness ... Larceny ... Litter ...
The reality is that the village is too big to police every inch and that in between drinking establishments and the small zones of law and order imposed by bouncers, it's a bit of a free-for-all. The worst of the worst don't even make it into bars where they can be contained, which leaves them both angry and at large. It really does make people feel unsafe at times.
That's why I believe it's time to get more cameras in the village, both to keep an eye on things and to help police identify thieves and thugs. The Village Gate pedestrian bridge, a pinch point on the Village Stroll, is an obvious place to start. The taxi loop is another. Then there are the open squares in between nightclubs and late-night eateries where bad things seem to happen with a little more frequency.
No doubt some will suggest that cameras are invasive, more a symbol of a police state and Big Brother than free-wheeling Whistler. To that I'd answer that we're already being filmed on private property by business owners and these particular public-facing cameras would be unmanned most of the time, except for the odd busy weekend. The footage would usually only be used after incidents to identify suspects.
I'm not under any illusions that cameras will magically pacify the village. Experiments in England and San Francisco have shown that cameras don't do much to deter most types of crimes, although they have been effective in identifying criminals after the fact, and in making some high-traffic areas a little bit safer. There's a reason why there are more cameras in taxis and buses than ever before. And how many times have criminals been caught by cell phone footage?
When things go down in Whistler, police often look for video from nearby security cameras at bars, hotels and other properties, and those blurry stills—shared on Facebook with tens of thousands of people—have led to actual arrests. The limited number of cameras we have are already doing a lot of good.
From my perspective, the real value of adding cameras is the ability for one person to effectively watch over a dozen different areas at once and let police foot patrols know where their presence could do the most good at that moment. Getting more police in the right spot at the right time will make the village safer.
And in those rare cases when an idiot steals a bike from Village Stroll rack or drops an ice ball through the window of a car, camera footage can help to identify said idiot and hold them responsible. Maybe some other idiots will take note and avoid doing the same idiotic thing.
Cameras are only part of the equation. I also think we need a 24-hour village hotline that people can call or text to report bad or intimidating behaviour.
Think about it. Most people aren't going to call 911 on an obnoxious drunk person or because a few groups of young men are yelling insults at one another on the Village Stroll. But if there was a non-emergency number you could contact to let local police know about potential problems that would help get more uniforms into the area before things escalate.
Overall, Whistler is a safe place to live and visit, but the statistics are small comfort to anyone who has ever been robbed, threatened, or worse in the resort. We can and should do better.