Despite reported crime numbers going down, Penticton’s RCMP officers are dealing with 170 cases per officer.
“That caseload is unsustainable,” said Supt. Brian Hunter to Penticton’s council on Feb. 2. The superintendent of the Penticton RCMP detachment was on hand to present the fourth quarterly report for 2020.
“I can tell you, our members are getting burned out with the caseload, they’re stressed, and they’re also very frustrated.”
Previously reported by the Western News, in 2018 the provincial average was 59 cases per officer, while Penticton officers had an average of 113 cases.
The caseload average across the province was expected to increase in 2019, due to updates in how the statistics are measured, and the provincial average for municipalities over 15,000 population rose to 71.
Penticton rose to 170 cases per officer, 139 per cent higher than the provincial average.
Hunter also provided historical numbers for comparison, starting in 2014 when Penticton was 22 per cent higher than the provincial average, in 2015 the city was 51 per cent higher, in 2016 it was 58 per cent higher, in 2017 it was 80 per cent higher, and in 2018 it was 92 per cent higher.
The averages provincially for those years were 63, 63, 62, 59, 59 and 71 from 2014 to 2019, where Penticton continued to climb.
“This is not a time for us to be cheering that we’re down nine per cent. It’s better than being up, but we’ve a long way to go,” said Hunter. “We haven’t started slacking off over those years, the members are working their butts off.
“We want to solve those crimes and help the public, but we’re going from call to call to call to call. “
On busy shifts, the RCMP are unable to respond to every call that comes in, and calls that come in are prioritized.
“Just yesterday, one of our members was out on patrol, noticed a crime vehicle from a previous event, the person was passed out behind the wheel. We surrounded the vehicle with police cars, and the moment we woke the person up they had no interest in being apprehended, they rammed the police car, injured one of members, and we were able to arrest them and they had a sawn-off shotgun next to them. When we’re dealing with those files, and there are other files of low priority, we can’t get to them.”
One of the projects to address the ongoing high caseload started up in January, with a prolific offender task force. That force currently is awaiting additional officers, and is staffed with a single corporal and the detachment’s crime analyst alongside community partners such as members of the probation and corrections departments.
“The ultimate goal is to get these people the help that they need to get out of the recidivism and the revolving door,” said Hunter. “In my experience, not everyone wants that, so we’re going to hold these people to account as best we can, they’ll be identified as prolific offenders, they’ll be served documents, and the courts will know, and they’ll be addressed as a prolific offender before the court.”
By identifying the individuals as a prolific offender, Hunter hopes that will make a difference for the judiciary’s ability to deal out a longer sentence.
Council approved in their 2021 budget funding for two additional officers, which Hunter hopes to see arrive part way through the year.
“If everything worked out in a magical way, we could have those by the summer, but I haven’t seen magic in a while,” said Hunter.
The local RCMP are also working with Interior Health to address calls within the community regarding addictions and mental health issues.
“We have a lot of vulnerable people that live in our community that are part of our calls for service,” said Hunter. “The ultimate solution of what we need in this community is rehabilitation and treatment.”
It is those people who live in Penticton, who are dealing with mental health issues, or addictions or combinations of the two that are where Hunter sees a need to focus community attention.
“We have a lot of people in our community who are suffering, and I say suffering, from addiction and mental health issues,” said Hunter. “This is a medical crisis, these folks need help. They honestly don’t belong in jail. They need help. I’ve been through Compass Court, I’ve been through Burdock House, I went through Victory Church, and there are a lot of people who need help. It’s where the effort and money needs to go.”
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