In 2008, Jubilee Park in downtown Abbotsford was rife with daytime drug deals, homeless people sleeping on the ground, and addicts smoking crack and shooting up.
Needles, used condoms and human excrement littered the park and, although overgrown vegetation hid some of the view, the site was a depressing urban blight. The area drew heavily on police resources, often prompted by calls from the public.
Abbotsford Police Sgt. Doug Sage wanted to make changes. He saw Jubilee Park as the living room of a big house – a place for people to hang out as long as they didn’t leave behind a big mess.
He became the supervisor in charge of the bike squad – a team of five police officers who patrol the downtown core’s alleys and side streets on mountain bikes.
Now, Sage is being recognized for his work in cleaning up the park and other areas of the downtown core. At the police board meeting on Nov. 27, he will be presented with the Abbotsford Policing Award for Outstanding Community Service Award.
“I was totally surprised. It’s an honour, very much an honour,” Sage said.
Sage, 49, began his 30-year policing career with the Vancouver Police Department at the age of 19 before joining the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) in 1992.
Those starting years in Vancouver gave him his foundation for working on the streets and connecting with some of society’s most downtrodden. In those days, the Granville Street corridor was similar to today’s Downtown Eastside.
It was an eye-opener for a young man who had no prior experience with such human degradation and misery.
“You get to see some of the sickness that some people have – the challenges with addiction, living on the streets and the will to survive … As a young person, you judge, but as you get older, it’s not so much judging; it’s understanding.”
Sage enjoyed the challenge of working on the streets, and his years with the APD have involved stints in just about every area, including patrol, the drug squad, and homicide investigations. He is now involved in policy and research.
Sage loved the idea of continuing to work at the street level and helping to bring changes to the Jubilee Park and other downtown areas, all while cruising around on a bicycle, from March 2008 to September 2011.
The problems in the park seemed overwhelming at first, but Sage and his crew connected with community partners such as the City of Abbotsford, the Salvation Army, the Warm Zone (a facility for street-entrenched women) and The 5 and 2 Ministries.
The city cleaned up the overgrown vegetation and garbage in the park, enforced city bylaws and improved lighting. The other organizations provided support services to those in need.
The bike squad focused its attentions on driving out the criminals.
Undercover officers were called in to perform drug stings, resulting in numerous arrests and charges.
Sage said individuals in the park and the surrounding area began to get the message.
“We were like the referees down there – or the monitors of this big house. You have to set down rules and guidelines,” he said.
Sage most enjoyed connecting with the street people he met during his years on the bike squad. They were individuals often shunned by mainstream society, but Sage saw beneath the surface.
“You can’t judge them by their looks … You get to them, and they all have goals and ambitions.”
He acknowledges there are still problems – they can never entirely be eliminated – but the area is once again being enjoyed by residents, including through the summer music series Jam in Jubilee.
“It’s a complete turnaround, a rejuvenation … The regular street-engaged people have respected the park – the rules of good behaviour – and it’s nice to see that legitimate park users can go there and use it,” Sage said.