Former Kelowna top cop, retired RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon presented his report on how to make city street safe to council in November. (Alistair Waters-Capital News)

Kelowna finally responds to downtown crime report

Four months after former top cop submits recommendations, city hall responds

The City of Kelowna has created a new position in its bureaucracy to help fight crime.

In response to recommendations by former top Kelowna cop, retired RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon, about how to tackle increased crime downtown, a director of community safety position has been created. It is currently being filled on a temporary basis by Kelowna’s risk manager Lance Kayfish.

McKinnon was hired by the city last year to look at what could be done to make downtown safer, and after six months on the job, during which time McKinnon said he had learned a lot, he delivered 21 recommendations to city council.

While McKinnon felt the city needs to take more of a leadership role in addressing the multitude of issues that contribute to crime downtown—including addiction, mental health and homelessness—the former veteran police officer warned the city could not “arrest its way out of this (current situation downtown).”

READ MORE: Kelowna needs to take the lead with crime and homelessness, says former top cop

After he presented his report in December, council did not immediately endorse his recommendations. Instead, it asked city staff to look at how they could be implemented.

On Monday, Kayfish will present the staff response.

His report says the new director of community safety position will mean a “significant” expansion of staff time at the senior level at city hall devoted to working with community organizations, both responding to acute issues and participating in, or leading, what is described as “upstream planning.”

“This position will provide sustained leadership and accountability for the city’s role in working with other city staff, the Interior Health Authority, RCMP, BC Housing, Uptown Rutland Business Association (URBA), Downtown Kelowna Association (DKA), chamber of commerce and others to collaboratively address the social impact of the opioid crisis and homelessness, among other responsibilities related to enforcement and safety,” says the report.

It lists a number of ways the city is already trying to deal with issues McKinnon identified, including the start of the Journey Home initiative to end homelessness; the Kelowna Outreach and Support Table (KOaST), a task force to respond to the opioid crisis, homelessness and at-risk persons in the community; a community Well-Being Leadership Table that brings police, the city and many social agencies together to share information and develop a social policy framework to determine roles and responsibilities of community groups and focus priorities.

On the enforcement front, the city will add six more RCMP officers this year, with a seventh focusing on community policing and KOaST. The city also ordered a review of its policing resources.

The report said the city is lobbying the province for a return of the RCMP auxiliary program and wants it to re-start next summer. It is asking for volunteers for the program to be trained now.

The Kelowna RCMP has also created the Police And Crisis Team (PACT) that pairs a mental health worker with a police officer on patrol to make sure those on the street who need assistance get the right type of help as quickly as possible.

Increased private security and a bolstered RCMP bike patrol are also planned, as are more city bylaw officers, says the report. The city is also lobbying Victoria for creation of a community court system.

But it is not just large-scale solutions that were recommended by McKinnon.

He said smaller moves could make a big difference to people on the street, additions such as more water fountains and public washrooms as well as improvements to local transportation. The staff report says all three are being addressed.

Council will receive Kayfish’s report Monday at its regular weekly meeting.

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