B.C.’s justice minister disagrees with South Okanagan politicians about the imminent need for more police to help manage a heavier workload expected to come with the new jail in Oliver.
“We don’t have the resources to take on a whole lot more than what we have,” said Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes, who believes his town’s RCMP detachment will handle most files at the jail simply because it’s closest.
“There’s no catastrophic threat to our communities… but we know that today in our detachment, (officers) are all working full out, and I don’t want to have anything diminish what they’re doing.”
Hovanes and counterparts from the City of Penticton and Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen discussed the matter with Justice Minister Suzanne Anton last week at the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference.
An RDOS briefing note prepared for Anton ends with a request for two additional Mounties in the South Okanagan beginning in the 2015-16 financial year.
“It is anticipated that an influx of approximately 1,000 construction workers over the ensuing two years followed by a permanent increase in population between the provincial jail employees, inmates and civilian spin-off will add to the pressure on current RCMP resources,” the note states.
It adds that the eight-member Oliver detachment — which is funded by the B.C. government since the town’s population is under 5,000 — is already “fully engaged,” and “there is a legitimate concern that the increase in population associated to the construction and staffing of the jail will adversely impact this.”
The note states that besides looking after criminal files generated at the jail, local Mounties may also be called upon to fingerprint, photograph and interview inmates on behalf of police outside the region.
All told, however, the justice minister doesn’t believe the jail will create extra police work.
“We do not anticipate increased pressure on local police resources as the new Okanagan Correctional Centre is built and becomes operational,” Anton said in a statement.
“That said, our government continually monitors policing resources, and this includes collaborating with communities and the RCMP to ensure adequate, effective policing in smaller communities like Oliver that are served by provincial detachments.”
Anton also noted the new jail “will reduce pressure on local police lockups,” and that “addressing crime isn’t just about officer numbers — integrated policing, engaged citizens, new laws and other initiatives have all contributed to B.C.’s lowest crime rate in decades.”
RCMP Supt. Kevin Hewco, who oversees all detachments in the region, said the request for two officers was meant as a budget placeholder based on Mounties’ experience with the jail in Kamloops, and that he’ll collect “more definitive, empirical evidence” in the months ahead to justify that claim.
Construction of the 378-cell jail is underway, with the first inmates expected at the $193-million facility, located on Osoyoos Indian Band land, in 2016.