At our last city council meeting we had a delegation from the Downtown Penticton Association asking for a refresh on how we collectively address social deviance in the heart of the city.
Elements of the presentation described a minefield of used needles and passed-out individuals. While I don’t think that is a fair characterization of downtown, we do need to acknowledge there are problems and concerns.
People under the influence of drugs, alcohol and being obnoxious or intimidating often operate in the realm of grey – not quite causing a disturbance of the peace and often tolerated by others for fear of things escalating beyond our comfort zone. For many of us that frequent downtown, we’ve also become desensitized to bad behaviour. We’ve allowed the behaviour to fester and continue instead of making it uncomfortable and difficult for those who continue their disruptive actions in prominent public spaces.
Penticton is no different than many other communities facing similar concerns with homeless, mental health and addictions, but that doesn’t soften the reality of our problem. I was happy to hear the DPA used terminology like “we,” “collaboration” and “partnership” as we can’t blame or expect the RCMP to fix the situation alone. It will take a group effort to make a difference for the better. The RCMP has some promising initiatives ready to launch; these, however, have taken longer than anticipated to roll out. Everyone expects results right away, and if we aren’t getting regular updates, seeing initiatives acted upon or hearing about high profile arrests, we assume our concerns aren’t being taken seriously.
I’ve heard from many property owners, businesses and residents about their frustrations over property crime. I sat in on a meeting with some winery owners and the RCMP regarding their businesses being targeted. I thought the meeting went well as the group offered up several suggestions including the use of technology to track the location of their equipment should it leave their property. Technology could also be used as a reporting tool by citizens for both bylaw and police. Currently the police respond to a significant number of stolen property reports where a vehicle or shed is left unlocked and valuables left in plain view. Imagine if that officer’s time could be better utilized for proactive policing or establishing a more visible police presence. That reallocation of time could be realized if people were more diligent about locking their vehicles or property and if reporting some types of minor offences could be done online. It is important that all crimes get reported so the police know where to target resources or tactics, while recorded statistics help justify the need for more resources.
Social issues, in particular addiction, in my opinion, are the root drivers to the increase in property crime that are plaguing so many communities these days. It is easy to feel overwhelmed especially since everyone expects the city to solve the problem. I find solace in the fact that we’ve been facilitating many of the social agencies and non-profits to work as a collective — we will only see success when all parties work together.
We’ve had some success with the 100 Homes Penticton movement and working with B.C. Housing to create shelters and subsidized non-market housing along with support services. Interior Health has new programs for mental health and new RCMP CSET (Community Support and Enforcement Team) unit will have a mental health officer. Addressing addictions has had some success, but it still suffers from significant stigma and resistance from being acknowledged as a disease.
Downtown is safe and there has been significant investment to bring more people to our core to live, work and play. Part of our commitment to the Downtown Penticton Association is to work collectively with protective services and social agencies to make some noticeable improvements to restore not just the perception, but also the reality of community and public safety.