Penticton may be gaining funding for five more RCMP members by 2022, with council offering verbal support for a policing financial plan presented in budget talks Wednesday morning.
Supt. Ted De Jager floated the idea of adding one officer per year for five years with council, suggesting the city bring its funding up from 45 members to 50. De Jager said there are a couple of measures police use to determine when more officers are needed.
“As the population increases, then there’s a steady increase, and that’s a fairly general formula,” De Jager said. “And also the member workload, so Penticton member workload is quite a bit higher compared to other cities for the municipal side of it.”
The request comes shortly after councillors received a third-quarter report from De Jager earlier this month detailing a rise in property crime in Penticton, and comes on the tail of a Maclean’s report that named Penticton the 16th worst city in Canada for crime.
The Penticton RCMP detachment came to council earlier this year for the 2017 budget requesting a similar increase to the local force, but were rebuffed by councillors, who sought to slim the budgeted tax increase for the year.
During those meetings councillors questioned the need to budget for more than 45 members, when the detachment rarely is paying that many officers at any given time. That issue was brought up again this year, albeit without questioning the need to fund more officers.
“Obviously we’re worried about the recent crime statistics and mental health issues, but what I would really like to see is how you are at full capacity,” Coun. Helena Konanz said. “Once you get your 45, then I can see, then you come to us and you say ‘I need more, this is not enough.’”
Konanz said she hasn’t seen, in her time as councillor, the RCMP detachment at full capacity with officers, but De Jager said he is taking steps to try to make sure the detachment doesn’t go too far below a full roster.
“We’ll always have, like any industry, about a 10-per-cent, if you will, soft-vacancy pattern, in terms of members going on parental leave, who we will very quickly backfill once we have that indication, or members being sick or gone for extended training,” he said.
De Jager said he will always try to keep the staff as close to 45 as possible through extra hires, and through bringing on extra cadets, adding the detachment is paying about 41 paycheques, but have 46 people employed.
“Some are on extended absence. Anything over 30 days, the City of Penticton no longer pays for that member directly,” he said.
De Jager said there are eight new members coming to Penticton between the next few weeks and early next year.
But while the municipally funded officers is set to go up over the years, De Jager’s presentation did not have any reciprocal increases budgeted for provincially funded officers — but De Jager said that doesn’t mean they aren’t pushing for it.
“We have a number of business cases in already to do that. It’s not reflected here because it hasn’t been approved to that level,” De Jager said. “In the Penticton area, we’re looking for an increase percentage-wise of at least 10 to 20 per cent, in those numbers, and then similar to the South Okanagan.”
De Jager said that increase would likely come as a sort of lump sum. While the City of Penticton funds 45 officers, currently, the province foots the bill of 11.
With the extra people, along with some reorganizing in the detachment, De Jager said he is hoping policing will be more proactive in the community than reactive, particularly with the formation of Community Support and Enforcement Team, which is expected to include a mental health officer.
“The establishment of the Community Police Advisory Committee or a steering committee that will eventually lead to a hub approach where we will immediately have a reaction to certain problems,” he said.
“Instead of being reactive, we are very proactive, engaging Interior Health, engaging the school district to stop some of these things before they happen, and that really is the way forward. As reactive as we are now, I would hope by the mid-part of 2018, going into the summer we are actually being very proactive.”
Following his presentation, in an interview with the Western News, De Jager took aim at the Maclean’s ranking for dangerous places in Canada, taken from 2016 Statistics Canada data.
“To use that to say that terminology ‘most dangerous cities in Canada,’ that’s one way to say it. That’s not the way I would say it,” De Jager said. “Our violent calls for service are less than four per cent of our total calls for service. That’s not a dangerous city, that’s a very safe city.
“We have an increase in property crime — again, it’s dangerous if you’re an iPad sitting in the front seat of an unlocked car, but it’s not dangerous to our population, and that’s a perception that we need to change.”
Indeed, while Penticton ranked number 16 in Canada for the crime severity index, on the more serious violent crime severity index, Penticton ranked number 55 in the country.
De Jager couldn’t say whether he expected the crime severity index to be lower for 2017, but he did say he feels the addition of mental health resources could help lower crime rates moving forward.
In its own budget talks, Vernon voted unanimously to add six more officers to its roster of 50 members. Vernon was ranked number nine in Canada on Maclean’s crime severity list.