Image credit: Alistair Waters/Capital News

Kelowna councillor candidates talk about crime

Candidates answer a question on many people’s minds - what to do about crime in the city

Every Friday during the run-up to the Oct. 20 civic election, the Capital News will ask candidates a question about a local issue. The first question is: Are you concerned about crime in your city? What would you do to create change if you were elected? Here are their answers, edited for length. Eighteen of the 22 councillor candidates responded. For the full list of candidates go to kelownacapnews.com and click the election tab.

Craig Hostland

Crime levels in our city are unacceptable. Crime from my perspective includes home invasion, common assault on public property, petty crimes like theft and sexual assault in public places. It also includes gang-related incidents because they exist because of crime. Visible street crime affects the public and our reputation as a city. We have hired more police, we have lit up alleyways and public parks, we have a larger number of private security systems and measures, yet crime —AKA safety— is still a significant concern. A short-term solution is to eliminate the “catch-and-release” program set about by the courts that only incarcerates blatant repeat offenders, and to bulk up our police force to catch more criminals in the act. But that is short-term and not cost-effective. The solution must include mental health assessment and support. It must also include transition services. Crime is a result of community breakdown and lack of transient control. We can fix that. I will work with city hall staff, stakeholders, and an independent public panel to pursue avenues that are well articulated and cost effective to reduce crime in our city. That may include more financial support to volunteer organizations that have a proven track record of success in moving people from crime to model citizens.

Greg Dahms

Crime in our city is a concern. According to Statistics Canada, the number of crimes reported in Kelowna increased by 10 per cent since 2014. This ranks us as the second highest crime rate city in Canada. Many residents of Kelowna have already been impacted by crime of some sort, from domestic violence to property crime and theft. As the owner of the Kelowna SPCA Thrift Store, I have witnessed acts of violence and theft first-hand. Many of these crimes are linked to drugs or mental health. If I am elected for city council, my goal is to implement programs to inform residents on ways they could protect themselves and their property. I plan to work with community groups and residents to form possible neighbourhood watch groups. I will also look at the budgets in place for security and policing and assess how we can maximize the funds for the ongoing safety of our residents and visitors to our beautiful city.

Stefanie Van Meeteren

Additional RCMP for the drug and theft units: Kelowna has been teetering on the top of the highest crime levels in Canada for quite some time. With 22 new RCMP hires in recent years, crime had dropped 13 per cent, but theft- and drug-related crime are still at an all-time high. Under my plan, a specialized task force of new RCMP hires would be hired to handle theft and drug related crimes exclusively. No traffic policing for these guys. We’re going to put them where it matters.

Bike Theft, Project 529 Garage and New Bicycle Lockers: Bike theft is one of the most common crimes in Kelowna. Tires, seats and even full bikes are stolen, chopped up and resold criminally for profit. Registering bicycle serial numbers with the RCMP has never proven too effective. Downtown and the KLO Mission area are two of the worst areas for bike theft.

Loyal Wooldridge

Absolutely, I am concerned people do not feel safe in Kelowna. Criminals have seen this as a prime opportunity to prey on the vulnerable population while perpetuating drug use and overall crime. This has become a compounding challenge, neglected for years due to the lack of funding from provincial and federal government partners. Uncoordinated supports for those who authentically need help also contributes to the lack of perceived safety. We’ve heard from the RCMP superintendent that this isn’t a scenario policing alone will solve. Numerous immediate actions and long-term strategies can be implemented to increase safety in Kelowna.

Firm prosecution for high-level criminals preying on the vulnerable. Excluding high-level criminals from varying areas while on parole or after prosecution to limit impact on those with low resiliency. Justice for victims and rehabilitation of offenders for low level infractions addressed with restorative justice. Using a community court, offenders can be held accountable. Retribution through community service provides purpose and opportunity to be triaged through coordinated rehabilitation services. Crime prevention through environmental design draws people to previously contentious areas and improved lighting to areas like City Park. Entrepreneurial concepts like temporary food vendors and art markets attract volumes of people deterring criminal activity.

De-centralize shelter and support services from downtown. Use the Housing First strategy to build dormitory style accommodation with supportive wrap-around services throughout the city. Work with the RCMP on an app style reporting model for non-emergency nuisance/crime focusing on hot spots. A peer clean up crew with lived experience homeless population to aide in clean-up of parks and streets. Advocate the province to distribute cannabis taxation to fund addiction rehabilitation & social services.

Graeme James

Yes, I am very concerned about crime and the continuing decline of our downtown streets and parks. Kelowna continues to rank high in illegal drug possession crimes which, in turn, point to high rates of addiction leading to more crime, especially vehicle and bike theft, break and enter, and theft from vehicles. There isn’t one, easy answer to any of these problems. However, statistics show that creating a more visible police presence in troubled areas can reduce crime. Also, having police identify and interact with high-rate offenders has shown to be an effective method of crime reduction in other cities. With this in mind, I would advocate for more bike patrols and the instigation of police foot patrols in Kelowna’s high risk areas. Foot patrols would be targeted and planned with officers patrolling high crime rate areas and focussing on information gathering, becoming with familiar with the street population of the area, and interacting with business owners.

Ryan Donn

I think its fair to say everyone is concerned about any level of crime in our community. Interestingly crimes rates against people have dropped about 12 per cent in the last three years, while property crime such as bike/car theft has gone up about 20 per cent. I feel that illegal drug activity and addiction are playing a substantial role in the property crime issue. If re-elected I’d advocate for six action items .

1. Hire more RCMP funded through the current annual RCMP operating surplus. Doubling the PACT team that pair a nurse with an RCMP officer. We need to focus on a “foot patrol” model of service in Kelowna.

2. Advocate for more drug rehab programs so we are reducing the root cause. We have an embarrassingly low availability of drug rehab programs in the Central Okanagan.

3. More education to deter people leaving cars or houses unlocked.

4. I will also continue to advocate for West Kelowna counterparts to hire more RCMP. Currently Kelowna has roughly one officer for every 700 citizens, while West Kelowna has one for every 1,400.

5. A focus on positively animating our public spaces.

6. There has also been some work done recently looking at the option of adding a community court in Kelowna for those who plead guilty to crimes. I think this is a step in the right direction and hope to see it happen in the next year or two.

Gordon Lovegrove

As someone who has been the victim of crime— both minor and major—this issue hits close to home. So yes, I’m concerned about crime in our city. Criminologists at UBC have developed design techniques, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, that I’ve had training in and that can be applied to reduce crime. Briefly, it looks at controlling three factors: perpetrator, victim, and place (environment). Perpetrators can be controlled through patrols and enforcement, but police cannot be everywhere 24/7. Kelowna has great volunteer community patrols to help but we need more volunteers to help later into the night, especially at 2 a.m. when bars close. RCMP resources should also be indexed to Kelowna’s population growth. Everyone can minimize the chances of being a victim by taking reasonable precautions, take self-defence courses, stay out of dark alleys, don’t leave items on your car seat. I would push our parks and recreation department to offer low-cost, family-friendly self-defence programs. Environment – how we design our communities – is the most controllable aspect. For example, put a light in that dark alley. I would push for CPTED experts to be more involved. City Park is a concern. More “eyes on the street” through more events and buskers in the Park could help. Is bringing back the Kelowna Aquatic Centre a possibility, so we can take back our park?

Lets use our trusted voices — volunteers, police, academics, residents— to tackle this complex problem with each of us doing our respective part.

Luke Stack

Kelowna crime is quite low but there are a few areas that need continued focus. The last city survey reported 90 per cent of citizens feel Kelowna is safe; however, I sense people feel less safe in 2018 as a result of bicycle theft and the amount of people living on the street in the city center. I will continue to press the RCMP and city bylaws officers to focus on these two issues. Looking back, I have supported the establishment of the new RCMP building; adding RCMP officers to increase the police force and adding bylaw officers to improve down town safety. Our last council also launched the combined RCMP and nurse team to help deal with people with mental illness (PACT team.) Finally, in 2017, we also added 12 new firefighters to staff the Glenmore Fire Hall. This was a major financial commitment. Essentially, one third of our annual taxation revenue is directed toward public safety. Overall the city has added a lot of new protective services positions in the last term: 16 RCMP officers, 12 firefighters; and 15 police services and bylaw support staff.

Gail Given

In order to meet the needs of a rapidly growing city, council, over the past two terms, has added significantly to the number of RCMP officers as well bylaw officers. According to the most recent report of the RCMP superintendent, serious crimes continue on a downward trend, however, property crime remains a challenge. To ensure we continue to improve in all areas, I support adding officers as our population grows, ensuring we don’t fall behind. The particular additions that have proven very effective in the past are crime analysts, enhanced downtown enforcement team members and the implementation of the PACT team (a mental health clinician paired with a police officer). I would further support these initiatives and, in addition, lobby for a community court, the return of tier 3 use of auxiliary RCMP officers and the full implementation of the Journey Home strategy.

Brad Sieben

Crime is a term often used generally, but it must be understood. “Crime” is usually referenced via data eg. RCMP crime statistics. But what does this truly indicate for our city? I believe the most recent RCMP update illustrated violent crimes against persons were down, but property crime had risen. Theft from vehicles, bicycle theft, theft from properties etc. has increased. Inferences are that this type of crime is linked to increased drug activity in the city. This is having a significant impact on the operations of businesses and citizen quality of life. The RCMP has been effective when conducting operations to target these offenders and coordinating “busts.” The important work conducted by the RCMP must be supported and encouraged, including the need to advocate to the provincial government re: the court process to remove prolific offenders from our streets. People often use the terms “crime” and “safety” interchangeably. However, they are different. Specifically, the “sense of safety” people feel in Kelowna may be very different from what is reflected in our crime stats. The Downtown Plan had/has three goals: 1) Attract people to downtown. 2) Increase sense of safety. 3) Attract private sector investment. During the presentation to council, crime stats were used to suggest the sense of safety downtown had improved; however, a reduction in crime from a statistical standpoint does not necessarily equate to an increased sense of safety. I rejected that notion. Downtown safety is a key area of focus for council.

Charlie Hodge:

Crime, including health and safety, are top priorities for many citizens in this election, especially regarding our streets. There are clear components impacting our streets: the truly homeless, mental health, addiction, and the criminal element. We need to clearly delineate between them and deal with each.

•Homeless. Of the four issues council has its greatest influence and impact with the homeless. We’ve done a good job of improving support for the homeless with more homes and assistance coming on stream. The Journey Home program and council’s work with various levels of supportive housing and programs is a positive step.

• Mental Health. Jurisdiction resides mainly with the federal and provincial governments who need to re-open and fund housing and support facilities now.

• Addiction. There is a pathetic short fall in effective rehabilitation facilities in B.C. The province needs to help municipalities with funding and creating such projects. We have lost Crossroads and other effective programs where those with issues can receive proper help.

• Crime. Some 25 per cent of our budget is spent on RCMP, however we have no say in how that funding is spent in deployment of officers or their priorities. We have good communication with the RCMP but do not run their day to day activity. Council can apply more pressure on the courts and governments to free up more court space and funds so that the criminal is not back on the street hours after being arrested, or not arrested at all.

In general I favour funding for RCMP rather than more bylaw officers. I believe the eventual elimination of the red and orange zones may reduce crime in residential neighbourhoods.

Maxine DeHart

Yes, I am concerned. We definitely need to ensure that we have a collaborative approach in establishing priorities in dealing with these issues. We need to continue to increase policing to keep pace with the fast growth in our community to ensure Kelowna is a safe place to live and enjoy.

Jeff Piattelli

Sadly, I know of many people who have been severely impacted by crime within this last year, myself included. These occurrences that I am aware of have taken place mostly in the downtown core. I don’t want to single out a certain group, as anybody can make a bad decision. However, my personal experience has shown that more often than not it is the homeless population breaking into peoples cars or stealing bikes. It doesn’t make it right, but I feel as though this is a means of survival for them when times are tough. I think the only logical solution is to provide these people with hope for a fresh start. We need to help them and I believe the first step is providing a new shelter that is moved from the downtown core. Give them a place where they can get better and get back on their feet. As a town that is largely dependent on tourism, I know that cleaning up the downtown streets will give people peace of mind with their belongings, and simultaneously help rebuild the image of Kelowna.

Lindsay Bell

Helping be a part of the solution is one of the driving forces behind my run for a council seat. By establishing a mental health and drug committee we would have a stronger voice when lobbying the provincial government to do more. I believe by being on council I would have more of an influence.

Substance abuse is often driven by a underlying mental disorder. In my opinion, mental illness must be treated or nothing will change. There are two models I have researched with similar ideology. The collaborative approach, also known as the dual diagnosis treats mental illness and addiction simultaneously. In my opinion, the most effective approach will be reviewing the judicial system and its role in treating the mental illness and addiction within the penal system. For instance, once arrested, let’s treat an individual’s mental illness clinically, thoroughly during their incarceration, in hope of properly diagnosing and rehabilitating the person. What is currently happening is clearly not working.

Dustin Sargent

Who wouldn’t say they are concerned about crime in their city? I don’t have any experience with violent crime, break and enters etc. beyond statistical measures, which the latest reports show to be on a positive trend since the release of the 2016-19 crime reduction plan. I have however had a front row seat to the safety concerns surrounding business owners and visitors primarily to the downtown core but also the other city centres. In 2006, living and working downtown in Kelowna, crystal meth hit the streets hard. In order to take back City Park’s safety, a satellite RCMP office was situated in the former restaurant building that was in City Park at the time. The city then converted the building into office space for city workers. It was a welcome presence. The result, in my opinion, was the park saw a swift and overwhelming positive change. If elected, I would suggest revisiting the idea of having city satellite office space in vacant areas to gentrify them. Maybe start with bylaw or city council offices? Also, if we’re to continue to rely on the private sector to shoulder the burden of operating in less desirable areas where safety concerns are present, we should create tax incentives to do so. It would be like carrying the development incentives the city has used in the past to the next level in order to see positive a change all the way through.

Amarjit Singh Lalli

Yes, I am concerned about crime. Crime takes on many forms. We should all be concerned. The proper way to deal with this issue is by identifying what the concern is. Then you identify solutions that will mitigate that particular crime. Each type will have a different solution. An example is break-ins. With this type of crime, you need to be vigilant. You should get to know your neighbors, report unusual activity, create neighborhood watches and protect your property with anti-theft devices. Our sentencing in the courts needs to be change. Rehabilitation should become mandatory when sentences are handed out in our courts. Understanding why crime is committed will help in creating programs to be proactive. You have to have a clear goal as to what you want to happen. Then you have to take steps to reach that goal and then you need to monitor to make sure the desired outcome is achieved.

Wayne Carson

Crime is a concern that all candidates for city council should have at the top of their priority list for action and review. In Kelowna, drugs play a large role in the crime statistics we see and as such the impact on all citizens is extremely negative and the tragedies are heartbreaking and affect us all. Considerable tax dollars are spent annually to address crime and I believe a long hard look needs to be made on this issue. A review with the purpose of determining whether there is value and a realistic strategic plan to mitigate the impact on residents for current practices in place needs to be done. So many times we find that good money is wasted or improperly applied to a problem and we just keep dropping good money after bad based upon weak or ineffective policies. Should I be fortunate enough to be elected to the Kelowna city council, it would be my intention to review how these tax dollars and all other tax dollars are used and the effectiveness of these programs. Taxes are a sacred trust between residents and their elected officials, it’s time politicians stepped up and did the right thing and treat these funds with the respect they deserve and deliver the services and functions that the citizens truly want. Value for your taxes is my goal.

Mo Rajabally

There is no city or neighbourhood that is crime free. It is the responsibility of city council to protect every citizen. I would propose:

1. A committee be established to regularly meet with the police and others, hence not relying solely on police reports. We need a new commitment from all city leaders and stakeholders.

2. Review of availability of security camera at entrances to every trouble areas. Evidence is clear tracking the day, time, and license plate of any car that enters a particular area. For years city council’s solution has been to simply hire more police officer. In reality, most cities need to put equal, if not more, resources into re-evaluating law enforcement training programs, and an example would be de-escalating intense situations.

3. The creations of programs that work directly with individuals who have committed crimes are needed to help prevent recidivism.

4. To truly combat violence, City Hall needs a new perspective and commitment from city leaders and stakeholders — business, educators and researchers, and public officials — not just law enforcement or the neighbourhood most immediately affected.

Kevin Bond

I am interested in scheduling an in-person interview. The question of crime in Kelowna is far too vague to be answered. It is like asking how long a piece of rope is.

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