Policing, Crime & Safety
City of Kelowna RCMP is under resourced and under strain, which is why we have so many frustrated citizens in our community & discouraged police officers.
There is a lack of accountability for those who commit crimes and reduced confidence in what is now being referred to as our “catch and release” justice system. The sad reality is that as long as the consequences of people’s actions are better than their present circumstances then things won’t change. That is, if someone on the street breaks a window to steal some goods, they might be be might arrested, taken to a warm or air conditioned place to stay and have a meal. That is better than their present option. This has to change!
I have heard from a variety of community residents including medical professionals plus members of law enforcement (lawyers, police, etc) that the notion of decriminalizing simple possession alone is not going to have a positive impact on crime. Many feel it is just ridiculous!
I have been a Board Director for the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce for over 5 1/2 years. As Co-Chair of the Policy Committee, we have resolutions supported by the BC Chamber advocating for the provincial and federal government to provide a significant investment in prevention, treatments and more education. However, the province is now decriminalizing simple possession. People are not prosecuted and convicted with small traces of drugs in their possession. The sad reality is that people who have a substance use issues are still needing to commit the crimes to be able to fund their drug use issues so this doesn’t help the situation.
RCMP and other front line workers know that personal substance use in B.C. has been de facto decriminalized for at least 10 years. Police working to connect drug users with help are still confronted by a lack of resources. I don’t see the province being much more prepared to handle the crisis by January 2023, when decriminalization goes into effect.
Mental health, addictions and other services for people living with addictions are really a hodgepodge of funded services that aren’t being evaluated as to whether or not they are working. We continue to invest billions of dollars, employing lots of people with little positive results to show.
Police and Crown prosecutors say they need more support to deal with crime in the city of Kelowna. The population, crime rate and workload are all rapidly growing without providing sufficient resources. Our Mayor and Council should also advocate for more Crown Prosecutors. I know people working in these offices. They are working nights and weekends to get the job one. The fact is that when Crown counsel offices are not adequately resourced, there is a real risk that justice will not be served. Business owners and tax payers in Kelowna deserve better!
Jail and hospital is not the solution. The B.C. government’s recent announcement to establish complex care facilities to address those whose criminal activity is driven by addictions and mental health issues isas a good start. However, not all prolific property offenders require or will accept voluntarily treatment or supports. Alternative, mandatory measures must be considered. I also believe Council should give serious consideration to a strategic review and restructuring of bylaw and police department resources.
Empower our bylaw officers so they have the tools, training and resources to deal more effectively with the homeless, mental health and “petty crime” issues so the RCMP can concentrate on other more intensified criminal activity.
Past and present senior RCMP members have suggested that Council should be advocating for legislative change to empower Bylaw Officers more authority; similar to legislative powers granted by Alberta and other provinces.
For example, in Alberta, Bylaw Officers are able to enforce provincial traffic laws and other provincial statues. Empowering bylaw officers to deal with more petty crime and traffic enforcement would free up time for the RCMP officers to deal with more serious crime. For example, I recently spoke with an RCMP while he waited for almost an hour for an ambulance to come and pick up a sleeping homeless person who could potentially have some health issues. Also, I sat at KGH for over 2 hours with an RCMP officer and a young lady who needed to see a Doctor regarding a domestic dispute and a mental health concern. No signs of violence or self inflicting harm. However, that is what the RCMP is required to do. Another example of where a bylaw officer supervising the patient would be a much better use of resource and we could have the RCMP helping to patrol our streets to keep them calm and safe.
Explore an Okanagan Police Force:
Council should engage the region in a conversation about having an Okanagan Police Force. As the former Chair of the UBCM Justice Protective Services Committee, I am aware that there are significant costs of a regional police force vs the RCMP. I love the RCMP and have two family members who are part of the Force. The RCMP is an excellent rural police force. However, it is a para-military top down organization that give their direction to “E” Division in Surrey who in turn provide marching orders to our Kelowna Superintendent. Maybe the time has come for the Central Okanagan to have an adult conversation as to pro’s and cons of having local governance and decision making control of our police resources. I am only advocating for a preliminary review of the cost/benefits of considering the establishment of an Okanagan Police Force. I envision the process to gather all this information could take some time and no decision would be made without community consultation and a referendum (maybe in the next election?). Think it is important that we explore all options and this includes how we can better utilize and support our crime prevention and citizens patrol volunteers as well as bringing back more community police and boots on the ground!