Jeffrey Pelly had a one-word answer for how he went from having a decent-paying job in the logging industry to having nothing, being found by police on Christmas Eve 2015 and sleeping in a stolen GMC pick-up truck.
“Drugs,” Pelly said, methamphetamine to be exact. A familiar story in Penticton courtrooms.
Pelly took the stand at his unique two-day sentencing hearing which concluded May 3. The hearing drew comment from Mayor Andrew Jakubeit, featured up-to-date crime statistics and heard evidence from local crime analyst for the Penticton RCMP, Rachel Linklater.
Pelly found himself unwittingly at the centre of a discussion about Penticton’s property crime problems and policing numbers after he was taken into custody twice in six days when police observed him leave the probation office only to commit a theft from a Penticton Lock and Key van less than two hours after he was granted bail.
In February, Judge Greg Koturbash asked if he should be taking judicial notice of the fact that Penticton was a community that seemed to be “somewhat under siege” of property crime while sentencing Pelly for the brazen theft among other charges.
At the time, Crown counsel Vernon Frolick was unable to quantify an increase in property crimes, the hearing was adjourned to a later date and Pelly remained in custody, his sentencing was put off until he reappeared in Provincial Court on May 2. This time Crown had the numbers, and a letter from Jakubeit outlining numerous phone calls, in-person complaints and emails he received about property crime in the last year, noting a “heightened sense of concern” among residents.
“I just want to take a moment to emphasize not only is the fear of crime troubling citizens, but weekly media coverage continues to showcase these crimes have taken place,” Jakubeit said in the letter, which was read in court.
The latest Penticton stats show 99 incidents of theft from a motor vehicle in January and February this year, up from 62 in the same period last year. January and February of this year also had 91 total reported incidents of break and enters broken down to 33 occurring at businesses, 45 in residences and 13 classified as “other.”
Pelly’s defence counsel James Pennington raised issues with the statistics, noting a statistics per capita, or crimes per 1,000 people, would paint a more accurate picture than the raw data of confirmed incidents the Crown was putting forward.
Linklater said she had access to the crime rate per 1,000 people in Penticton, but it was not contained in the reports submitted by Crown.
The data was not broken down by age or demographic and didn’t take into account the transient population, tourist numbers or unemployment, Pennington also pointed out.
The Penticton RCMP have said in the past that the rise in property crimes is the work of a few prolific offenders, which they currently combat with the prolific offender management program which led to Pelly’s most recent arrest. However, whether or not the crimes could be attributed to a select few offenders could not be represented with statistics, Linklater said, but she noted that similar modus operandi or crime profiles lead police to believe it is the same offenders.
Linklater said four of six members were taken from the Penticton RCMP’s crime reduction unit after two homicides took place in 2015.
“Do the statistics that you’ve given us, do they reflect that decrease in manpower?” Pennington asked.
“I think the rise in property crimes reflects that we don’t have the active enforcement out on the road,” Linklater said.
Frolick made reference to a Mark Twain quote: lies, damned lies and stats, prior to entering into a debate between himself, judge Koturbash and Pelly’s defence counsel James Pennington — all while Pelly sat silently listening to a discussion that took into account much more than his personal circumstances.
Pennington said there was no dispute that the court can take into consideration while sentencing the prevalence of crime in a community, but did tell Judge Koturbash “you should be sentencing Mr. Pelly for what he’s done, not for what’s been done by other people.”
Pennington said the statistics provided by Penticton RCMP don’t tell the full story, but Koturbash said he couldn’t ignore the data.
“We could have somebody go through these statistics and work them to no end, at the end of the day are you disagreeing that crime is up and continuing to climb in Penticton?” Koturbash asked.
“It appears to be up and climbing, all I’m saying is it’s not fair to go take all of that and toss it in (Pelly’s) lap,” Pennington said.
The role of deterrence in sentencing by the court was discussed, citing the societal effects of harsher sentences on drunk drivers.
“Obviously the message isn’t getting out there,” Koturbash said of property crime.
Pelly took the stand on May 2 to tell his side of the story. The soft spoken but articulate prolific offender said he was driving the stolen truck he was found in by police in the Home Hardware parking lot on Christmas Eve 2015 for a friend, that he had no knowledge of the stolen items in the truck and had pulled over to sleep as he was too tired to get to his destination.
He outlined a prior cocaine addiction, but said that it was when he became addicted to methamphetamine that he lost everything.
Pelly, who has two children and an ex-wife, started using methamphetamine with his new romantic partner, walking away from his well-paying forestry job and fighting what he said was a $100-a-day habit.
Pelly called it “karma” when he came home one day to find the woman gone along with his things. He alleged mistreatment after he was moved to protective custody in the Kamloops Regional Correctional Centre following an assault committed by fellow inmates in which he said he lost a tooth.
Pelly said what he needs to move forward in life is treatment, hoping to attend a 12-month program. Pennington submitted a sentencing position of probation and treatment at a rehabilitation facility.
Pelly has a criminal record dating back to 2007. A notable escalation and frequency in convictions took place in 2015 when Pelly was convicted of 11 criminal offences, “almost one per month,” Koturbash said.
Koturbash took into account the theft which occurred two hours after Pelly was granted bail, calling it a “flagrant disregard” for the law. Pelly received 18 months of probation, including a 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew.
Given the statistics presented for the first two months of 2016, property crime “appears to be accelerating” said Koturbash on May 3 before he handed down Pelly’s sentence.
Koturbash noted the two homicides, the limits on police resources and the court’s role in deterring crime through sentencing.
“Regardless of the reason for the spike, those who engage in these crimes do not appear to be deterred and a strong message needs to be delivered,” Koturbash said.