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Penticton RCMP overworked while crime rate, danger to police rises: superintendent

Forty-two more police officers in Penticton required to meet provincial caseload average
Supt. Brian Hunter presented his first quarter report to Penticton city council, today (April 21). (Phil McLachlan - Western News - File)

In a lengthy report to Penticton city council Tuesday afternoon, RCMP Superintendent Brian Hunter said an additional 22 officers are needed in order to effectively keep up with increased crime levels in Penticton.

He said 42 more police officers, would be required in Penticton to meet the provincial caseload average of 59 per officer, something City of Penticton mayor John Vassilaki later explained the city cannot afford.

It was previously reported that officers in Penticton are faced with the highest caseload of any of the province’s RCMP-policed municipalities with a population of over 15,000.

“This can be very stressful for our members,” said Hunter. “The wellness of our members is very, very important… there’s simply not enough police officers here to deal with every single call that comes in to that detachment.”

Hunter expressed frustration at not only the shortage in police force, but also the inability to remand many offenders into custody, and the increase risk of injury to his officers.

The effect of COVID-19 on the RCMP, justice system

Due to COVID-19, agencies are working around the province to keep individuals out of corrections centres to avoid overcrowding. As a result of this, Hunter explained, very few individuals arrested for a crime are remanded into custody. Only those charged with very serious offences will be remanded.

Some previously remanded have since been released back into the public, Hunter explained, adding that a well-known break-and-enter offender has recently been released. He said seeing re-offenders back in public is a ‘point of frustration’ for local officers.

This inability to keep chronic offenders behind bars he says is a stark contrast to a crime reduction strategy.

“It’s definitely a very frustrating thing, I know the community gets frustrated,” said Hunter. “You can well imagine the police officers out there who spend an exorbitant amount of time investigating these folks and perhaps a file that involved 100 police officer hours to deal with it, and they just get released back out into the community.”

READ MORE: Reported South Okanagan crime up 14 per cent in first quarter

Councillor Katie Robinson asked if RCMP have any kind of control on criminals not remanded.

The superintendent simply replied, “No,” but added they do keep tabs on chronic offenders and check up on them regularly.

However, he added another point of frustration that repeat-offenders are being arrested for breaching conditions and then released again on the same conditions.

Further to his points regarding how COVID-19 has affected the justice system, Hunter said it’s been disappointing not being told when an individual is being released from a correctional centre.

“It’s been a little bit disappointing the police of jurisdiction, myself, not being apprised when somebody is released from the correctional centre, because they’re a remanded prisoner and they want to limit the number of people in the correctional facility,” Hunter explained.

“I think it’s pretty important that the police of jurisdiction be advised of that, so that’s just some communications issues we’re working on.”

“We’re going to carry on doing our part, and I can assure you, we’re going to do it well,” he added. “It’s just something, your worship, that’s a part of our fabric in that revolving door, we try not to get too frustrated by it and all we can do is our part and do our job.”

COVID-19 not the cause of increased crime

Since the start of COVID-19 in B.C., the number of violent crimes Hunter said have remained relatively the same, but RCMP has seen an increase in break-and-enter crimes, as well as theft from vehicles which is up 38 per cent.

However, Hunter said the coronavirus is not necessarily the cause of an increase in crime, and he said crime is up because “we have a lot of issues in this community that police are dealing with” adding that Penticton has an issue with property crime, “not related to COVID-19.”

Penticton an attractive place for ‘undesirables’

Penticton, he said, is an attractive place for ‘undesirables’ due to the vast resources available to them. That being said, Hunter added they simply do not have the resources to respond to the number of calls for service they’re receiving.

Hunter referenced a day shift officer who last week received 50 calls for service. Last year, Hunter said, a 20-call day would have been considered a busy day.

Minor calls for service that officers receive, Hunter said get carried over onto the next shift which can take a toll on officers. One of Hunter’s policing priorities highlights the need for more focus on the health and wellness of RCMP officers.

“We’re in this together,” he said to council. “We’re a very busy detachment and it’s important just that everybody knows how busy these members are.”

The streets are becoming increasingly more dangerous for police officers. This year, Hunter explained, there have been seven flights from police, and three police vehicles have been rammed.

Last year, he said there were zero flights from police.

“They’re just starting to ram our police officers,” said Hunter. “It’s a complete disregard for life, it’s a disregard for the police in your community, and it’s disgusting. That’s just the type of battlefield that we have out there at times in this community as well.”

Hunter believes more funding into rehabilitation will help reduce the rising crime rate.

Theft in Penticton ‘skyrockets’

In a report to council Hunter explained that calls for service are up eight per cent compared to the 2019 first quarter, but some areas including theft from vehicles is up 38 per cent.

Culprits, Hunter explained, will walk through neighbourhoods and lift door handles. Leaving vehicles locked, he said, would do a lot to help the police fight this. However, he said recidivism in the community remains a problem.

The Western News previously reported that in the Penticton Municipal Detachment, there was a 62 per cent increase in break and enter of businesses, at 76 compared to 47, in the fourth quarter last year. This is a seven per cent increase compared to the 2019 first quarter.

Compared to this period last year, theft from vehicles jumped 45 per cent, from 154 to 223. The most calls for service in Penticton during 2020’s first quarter was theft, at 441.

RCMP have found that Ford F250 and F350 trucks are being targeted for vehicle theft.

“There’s the big uptick in the stolen trucks, the pursuits, and ramming of police officers. It’s not good,” said Hunter.

Coun. Jake Kimberley asked Supt. Hunter if he would follow suit regarding what he referenced as an initiative established by the previous superintendent.

“That if you leave your vehicle unlocked, then they’re not going to inquire as to what’s been stolen out of the vehicle, simply because it’s your negligence for leaving it unlocked. Are you going to follow that practice?”

Hunter said they will not follow that initiative.

“We’re human beings… it’s still a crime when it’s not a locked vehicle,” he said. “That might be the missing piece of the puzzle. We want people to call that stuff in.”

Hunter referenced the recently established online crime reporting tool which he says helps officers with these kind of files.

READ MORE: Online crime reporting coming to Penticton

Domestic violence numbers ‘close to the same’

Hunter explained that domestic violence calls have remained close to the same, but was later questioned by Coun. Judy Sentes who queried why she is hearing from agencies dealing with domestic violence that they are swamped by the uptick.

The superintendent believes the quarterly report will be a real tell on these numbers. He said RCMP have an excellent working relationship with services including mental health.

Superintendent Hunter will return to city council again in July for his second quarter report.

Reported crime in the South Okanagan is up 14 per cent, according to the first quarter RCMP report. (RCMP)

READ MORE: Fire crews unsure what caused two vehicles to burn in Kaleden


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Phil McLachlan

About the Author: Phil McLachlan

Phil McLachlan is the editor at the Penticton Western News. He served as the reporter, and eventually editor of The Free Press newspaper in Fernie.
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