Joy Lang holds a sign to highlight what she and a number of others at the Penticton courthouse Tuesday believe is insufficient punishment for prolific offenders. The rally attracted a small group of people. Mark Brett/Western News

Residents rally for tougher sentences

Group of Penticton residents want judges to make the time fit the crime

Make the time fit the crime.

That was the message a handful of people protesting in front of Penticton Provincial courthouse were hoping to deliver Tuesday afternoon.

“There is a gentleman here (in court) today who’s had 63 charges against him since February 2015 and yet he’s still out walking the streets and I’d like to know why, it just doesn’t make sense to me,” said event co-ordinator Mark Billesberger, who continues to be an outspoken advocate for the need for tougher sentences for repeat offenders. “The way things are going right now they’re (criminals) are not being held accountable at all. They’re let loose and they’re right out doing it again the same day.

“They’re riding around on their little bicycles and trailers and going into people’s yards and stealing whatever’s not nailed down, anything they can get a few dollars for. I think a lot of the problem is the hard drugs, meth and cocaine and stuff like that.”

Related: Lack of resources and drug addiction to blame for rise in property crime

One change he would particularly like to see is the maximum for misdemeanour crimes be reduced from under $5,000 to under $2,000.

“The way the system works is someone can steal your $4,000 piece of equipment, strip it down and sell all the parts and if they get caught they get a slap on the wrist,” said Billesberger. “They can continue doing this and doing this and doing this and continue to get a slap on the wrist so at what point do we say enough misdemeanours you have to do some time in jail.”

The types of crimes also concern him, a lady he knows had eight bags of bottles and cans she had been saving to buy her daughter a bicycle stolen from her yard.

“How sad is that?” he asked.

Billesberger also believes Penticton’s highest ranking in the province for criminal code offences in 2015 is also scaring tourists away from making the city a destination, something the general public is unaware of.

“What we need to do is get the drug addicts some help, real help,” said Billesberger. “Right now at the provincial level there is no help and by getting them help it would run the drug dealers out of business.”

He also has concerns about the potential for an increase in the number of vigilante groups and others like Creep Catchers, and the danger they pose.

“People want something done and anything to protect our kids from predators is a good thing but they have to watch their p’s and q’s and cross their t’s and dot their i’s,” he said. “The thing with Creep Catchers is I’m afraid one day they’re going to roll up to somebody and he’s just going to pull out a gun and shoot them.”

Related: Shining a light on Penticton crime

So far Billesberger has spoken with MLA Dan Ashton and RCMP Staff Sgt. Kurt Lozinski about his concerns including police presence and response times, both of which he says have improved.

Wayne Murphy also stopped by the courthouse to lend his support to the cause.

“I’m really just fed up with the way the justice system works,” said Murphy who believes the problem is nation wide. “There are so many examples of things that happen and people get away with just a slap on the wrist and they really don’t care.

“They go to court and they probably know the judges by first name. It’s just ridiculous.”

He believes the problem starts at the top with the politicians, the law makers, and that is where the solution will have to come from.

Murphy’s own son and his friend were mugged in Vancouver by someone who hit them from behind and took off.

When he called the officer in charge was told there were not enough resources to really investigate the incident.

“And I said to the officer, ‘they could be your next murderers,’” said Murphy.

About taking the law into their own hands, he said: “I think you’re going to see it. People are sick and tired of being taken advantage of and will do something.

“It’s not that I’m an advocate of Creep Catchers and people get all uptight about it because ‘oh they’re a vigilante group,’ yes but if it was your daughter or your son who was the next victim that they stopped, you’d be happier than hell.”

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