To handle Penticton’s crime caseload, 60 more officers are needed, said a city staff report.
But at Tuesday’s meeting, council agreed to consider hiring an additional three to be put into the 2022 budget.
“We are in crisis mode,” said mayor John Vassilaki who put forward his community safety motions to a vote.
“The taxpayers are saying they want community safety as the top priority. There are people living a life of crime, using fear and intimidation and their actions have no consequences,” said Vassilaki.
In the end, and after a lot of discussion, council agreed to direct staff to make community safety a priority in the 2022 budget by looking into hiring three more officers, four additional bylaw enforcement officers and two additional community safety officers.
Coun. Katie Robinson voted against more bylaw officers saying she wasn’t comfortable spending that much in the budget.
“I suggest we can’t not afford it,” said coun. Judy Sentes. “We have our reputation at risk here. We are hearing from residents who are consider leaving and from tourists not feeling safe to visit.”
It costs around $190,000 per officer.
“There is quite the process of getting a police officer, so let’s get on this as soon as possible,” said Sentes.
Council agreed to hire two more officers in May. Two other officers were put in the 2021 budget.
None of those four officers have arrived.
Penticton CAO Donny van Dyk confirmed to the Western News that the city has put in the request to the RCMP to start the hiring process for those two officers in May.
Currently there are 50 officers in Penticton but 20 per cent of those are off on medical or stress leave.
Robinson said she was opposed to hiring anymore bylaw officers. She also opposed the mayor’s suggestion that bylaw officers hours extend to evenings and weekends. Robinson cautioned that bylaw officers are not trained police and could be put in harm’s way.
Several councillors emphasized that agreeing to making public safety a priority in the budget doesn’t mean agreeing to hire a certain number of officers or bylaw.
Coun. Campbell Watt’s motion to direct staff to look into the cost, legality and effectiveness of putting cameras in the downtown was also voted for along with adding a $40,000 grant to the Downtown Penticton Association to look at this as a pilot project.
The cameras’ locations won’t be made known, said Sentes.
The local RCMP have long said they are working on a reactionary basis only with no community presence besides responding to active crimes because of the caseload and staffing shortages.
Bylaw enforcement services have also indicated that they’ve had a very busy summer with increased calls to deal with social issues and encampments.
In July, council turned down the mayor’s request to hire five more officers after Penticton’s police chief said his officers’ caseload was unsustainable.
Following council turning down five officers, the owner of Ogo’s ice cream was attacked with a hammer and robbed. There have been no arrests.
Since then, several violent incidents have taken place including a woman struck from behind while she was paying for parking downtown.
Penticton has also had four murders this year.
Penticton resident Taig Savage was found critically injured at Pen Hi (Sept. 5).
Police deem it to be a homicide but no more information has been released since they ID’d him on Sept. 13.
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