Penticton’s city council took Thursday afternoon to debate in a special meeting whether to call for additional RCMP officers.
Mayor John Vassilaki called for five additional officers, something that RCMP superintendent Brian Hunter would make a good start at making a dent in the overwhelming number of cases that Penticton’s police force faces.
“It goes without saying, just look at our caseload, it’s 139 per cent higher, almost two-and-a-half times higher than the province [average],” said Hunter. “We are in response-oriented mode. We do zero active policing in this community because we simply don’t have the time.”
That motion was voted down in a 4-3 vote. Instead, requesting two officers and conducting a public safety report was proposed by Coun. Julius Bloomfield, which was passed unanimously.
That report would be intended to look at the budget costs and needs for all public safety services in the community, in order to be prepared for the 2022 budget discussions.
Coun. Katie Robinson took issue with the potential million dollar increase to the budget that would have come with five officers, and the associated potential three per cent tax rate increase, and called for a more of a middle ground approach with requesting two additional officers instead.
Coun. Campbell Watt also supported two officers instead of the five, with a further review of all public safety services, such as fire and bylaw to be done before budget deliberations.
Vassilaki displayed a cheque for $5,000 that one business owner had given to him earlier that day to go towards the RCMP as a clear sign for the support.
“We are now in danger of the frustration levels growing so high that people will take matters into their own hands,” Vassilaki said during the opening of the special meeting.
Coun. Frank Regehr and Robinson both called the judicial system a ‘revolving door’ for criminals that they described as a larger issue than a lack of RCMP.
Coun. Bloomfield cited the RCMP’s own annual report as indicative of a downward trend in crimes overall as part of his decision in voting against the five officers.
“There’s a lot of green on the screen, and the data is telling us that crime is in decline,” he said.
That report found every category of crime in Penticton decrease except for fraud and assaults.
However, according to Statistics Canada, Penticton remains B.C.’s most crime-ridden city.
In the latest statistics for 2020, released on July 29, Penticton saw a crime severity index rating of 180.19, down from 232.60 in 2019 and up from the 143.18 rating in 2018.
Coun. Miller echoed calls from other members to hold a focus more on the judicial system as a source of the issues plaguing the community, as well calling for looking into other
“Before we open up a million dollars for policing, are we better served hiring a million dollars worth of mental health workers, of auxiliary police?” said Miller. “Should we be committing a million dollars to fire protection up in the hills?”
Once the requests are placed with the RCMP for new officers, according to the City of Penticton, the turnaround for them to arrive is between eight to sixteen months.
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