Several people lined up to speak to the South Okanagan’s top cop Insp. Ted De Jager, with the public question period running about 40 minutes overtime. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Top cop draws crowd for crime talk

A couple hundred people turned up to hear Insp. Ted De Jager speak and to ask their questions

A forum on policing in Penticton Wednesday evening saw some give kudos to the city’s recently hired top cop Insp. Ted De Jager, as well as some criticism from people frustrated with crime in the city.

De Jager took questions and feedback on stage for nearly two hours after nearly an hour-long presentation, in which he provided some preliminary statistics on various crime rates in the city.

While De Jager’s stats show a downward trend, he said there will always be spikes in crime rates over time.

“By far and away, the biggest concern for Penticton … (is) theft, and it’s theft from auto. And we know who’s doing that, and we target those people,” he said, adding that many of those thefts come from unlocked vehicles with valuables in clear view.

“I can almost guarantee you, where that big spike is … we take one or two people off the board, put them in jail — down it goes,” he added, pointing to a recent spike in thefts from vehicles over the past couple of months. “I would happily guess that you’ll see that start to drop pretty soon, because we just took some off the board last night.”

Related: Shining a light on Penticton crime

While issues like thefts from vehicles persist, De Jager assured residents that violent crimes aren’t a major part of the city’s crime rates, making up around four per cent of all crime in the last quarter, at a rate of one per 1,000 residents.

“We’ve had two homicides in the last few months in Penticton. One was domestic violence, one was lifestyle. … In terms of that driving our perception that this is an unsafe community, that’s false.”

But despite De Jager’s assurances that the community is safe, there were some who challenged that assertion, come public question period, which ran around 40 minutes over its allotted time.

“I’ve had to explain to my eight year old why his bicycle has been stolen, why my bicycle has been stolen, why all our lawn ornaments have been stolen,” said one woman.

“What the hell are they doing with my lawn ornaments? You have a well-identified house on Winnipeg Street,” she said to some applause. “I see some of you are familiar.”

Related: New top cop already in the hot seat

De Jager gave some advice to people earlier in the evening on how not to be victimized by property crime — including buying cameras, locking doors and keeping valuables out of cars — but the woman complained that that advice didn’t help her.

“I bring in video tapes and I bring in dash cam and the guy at the front desk for the third time that week just gives me an eyeroll and hands me a photocopy of the form to fill out,” she said. “We’re not being taken seriously and we’re not being listened to.”

But De Jager told her he is listening, and while her measures to prevent crime against her haven’t been successful, he believes they will be moving forward.

Another man questioned De Jager’s statistics rates going down, saying he doesn’t call the police anymore due to poor responses in the past.

“Now, we have people in our yard at least every month and I’m not going to call you guys anymore. The cameras on our street are pretty much turned off, and people on our street are tired of being victimized,” he said. “What level of government do I have to jump all over to get you funding that you need to police this town properly?”

Related: Concerns growing about Penticton street life

The notion of a poor response from police was a popular one Wednesday evening, with some complaining of a two-and-a-half hour wait for a response, often noting only three or four officers were on during the night — though De Jager pointed out that response times on priority calls are typically five to nine minutes.

“It’s not necessarily about more police. It’s about having the right police at the right place at the right time, and you can’t do that if you’re not calling us, and we can’t do that if you turn off your cameras,” De Jager said.

“But we have to be realistic. It’s evidence that we’re looking for, so we often hear of people that have complaints about how something went through the court system … and I completely understand that.”

De Jager didn’t only face criticism during the evening’s meeting — a number of people challenged the various levels of government to do more on issues surrounding poverty, mental health and substance abuse.

“How do we make it so that having a normal, lawful life is profitable enough, affordable enough and desirable enough that someone will actually work to have that again,” said one attendee. “What’s the future when housing’s so hot? How do you hold the housing market responsible for its part to play in poverty?”

Related: Lack of resources and drug addiction to blame for rise in property crime

Others in attendance offered their kudos to De Jager for what they saw as one of the first genuine attempts by the police to tackle the issue of crime in Penticton.

“I work with the RCMP in the cell block, and … I really want to give you kudos for this meeting tonight. I’ve lived in this town for 10 years and this is the first time that I’ve seen … or ever been a part of something that’s going to happen here,” said one attendee.

“Some of the men and women that work in this organization are the finest, they’re some of the best people.”

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