Aggressively pursuing a mandate the past two years to reduce crime in Kelowna has life harder for local criminals, says the Kelowna RCMP detachment superintendent.
Nick Romanchuk gathered the local media Wednesday afternoon at the Doyle Street police headquarters to report that Kelowna’s Census Metropolitan Area police-reported crimes ranking, number one for highest crime rate in 2012, now sees the city ranked fourth out of the 33 CMA areas across Canada.
In 2013, the city had risen from the worst to number three in the rankings, compiled by Statistics Canada.
The title for highest crime rate in the country for metropolitan areas with over 100,000 population now belongs to Saskatoon, followed by Regina and Vancouver.
“Two years ago, I was standing in this very spot to discuss why Kelowna had the highest crime rate among the Census Metropolitan Area participants. Since then, our members have worked hard the past two years to direct our resources in an efficient manner to have a positive impact on reducing crime,” Romanchuk said.
“Our focus has been on prolific offenders, small groups of people responsible for the majority of crime in our city, and being relentless in charging these people and bringing them to justice whenever possible.”
Romanchuk also noted that violent crime has seen an eight per cent decrease from last year, while drug related offences has increased.
Romanchuk said the drug crime arrest rate increase is actually a positive reflection of the Kelowna RCMP’s pro-active stance on drug law enforcement.
“The high drug arrest statistics are linked to the amount of work we do,” he said, noting that CMA communities with a low drug crime rate are really a reflection of police departments not actively busting drug crime offenders.
“We believe the more work we do in drug crime enforcement, the lower the crime rate will be because those two factors are directly related.”
A community becomes part of the CMA crime statistic rankings if it has a population of at least 100,000. Kelowna’s Census Metropolitian Area also includes West Kelowna and Lake Country.
Romanchuk cited a recent wave of arrests between June 15 and 30 resulting from the intensive efforts of a 20-person investigative team focused on downtown crime which saw 44 individuals charged with 75 crimes.
“One of those individuals was very prolific, having 142 previous convictions,” Romanchuk said.
“Most of those people have been arrested, the remainder are being sought on arrest warrants. Six of them have been identified as mid-level drug traffickers.
“They range overall in age from late teens to early 50s, both male and female.
“Drugs seized have included heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine and crystal meth. As well, we also seized $3,000 in cash.”
That investigation also led police to uncover a bicycle chop shop that led to the arrest of two individuals and the recovery of 41 bicycle frames ranging in value from $500 to $5,000.
That again relates to the Kelowna drug trade as stolen bikes are often a commodity obtained for acquiring drugs.
Romanchuk said the CMA population mark is about 180,000 people for Kelowna, but close to 1.5 million tourists come to the Okanagan annually which he says can skewer the crime stats.
“People who come here affect our population and they can bring additional crime that we might not otherwise see,” he explained. “Based on how the CSA crime rate is calculated, we are limited by how far up the list we can go. I would like to see us out of the top five and if we can get somewhere in the five to 10 range, I think that is achievable and a reasonable expectation based on how the crime calculations are done.
“But when you see the crime rate going up in other metropolitan areas while Kelowna’s doesn’t increase a whole lot or stays the same, that is good news for us.”
Romanchuk noted the city’s commitment since 2013 to add 22 officers to the detachment by the end of this year.
Romanchuk also extended his thanks to his officers for their efforts to combat crime in Kelowna.
“I would like to thank our staff and members for the long hours they work, often under difficult conditions and missing time with their family and friends. Their work is the single biggest reason why we have achieved the results we have,” he said.
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran echoed Romanchuk’s sentiments about getting tough on crime, noting the increase in manpower along with the commitment to build a new police detachment.
“The new (detachment) will allow for more members to be added as needed, upgrade the technology capabilities and improve efficiencies with all the police department services under one roof,” Basran said.
The mayor also cited the “more eyes on the street” contributions made to assist RCMP by city bylaw enforcement officers, downtown patrol teams, park ambassadors, and both transit and private security initiatives.
“The city takes crime prevention very seriously,” he added.