Kelowna’s former top cop says city can’t ‘arrest its way’ out of downtown drug problems

Former RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon is preparing a report on ways to deal with impact of opioid crisis

Former RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon was in charge of the Kelowna detachment from 2004 to 2013. —Image:Capital News file

Former RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon was in charge of the Kelowna detachment from 2004 to 2013. —Image:Capital News file

Kelowna’s former top cop, hired by the city to look at issues surrounding the opioid crisis, says enforcement alone is not the answer.

“You can’t arrest your way out of this, it’s impossible to do that in 2018,” says retired RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon in a new video released by the city to highlight the work he is doing as a consultant for city hall.

“That may have been effective in my day, or in 2005, but it’s so complex and there are so many intricacies in what’s going on in the actual solutions,” says McKinnon who retired in 2013 after nine years in charge of the Kelowna detachment.

McKinnon is set to present his report in November. He held off presenting it before the municipal election, preferring to reveal his recommendations to the new city council to be sworn in Nov. 5.

In the YouTube video, McKinnon says everything he has looked at, and everyone he has spoken too, agree that first requirement is to get people on the street shelter.

“They’ve got to have a roof over their heads,” he says in the video. “We can’t leave people out on the street to freeze to death. And the housing can’t come quick enough, to be honest with you.”

B.C. Housing is opening 88 new units of supportive housing this year in the city and talks are underway for another 100 units next year.

McKinnon calls the opioid crisis a “real game changer” in terms of law enforcement since he was in the city’s top cop.

The video lists three main issues that are complicating the quest for solutions to the issue—mental health and addiction, an increasing vulnerable population and a changing legal environment.

“The numbers have doubled, almost tripled, from what I saw when I left (the RCMP) in 2013,” says McKinnon.

And then there is the court system.

He notes while possession of a narcotic is still an offence, the courts are treating it as an illness and as a result, feels the penalties for possession are far different than what they were in 2013.

In the video, the city lists several steps it has taken this year to help alleviate the situation downtown including:

• New security patrols

• Increased street cleaning

• On-call recovery of discarded needles

• Temporary washrooms

And it says it is also working with partners on what it calls a holistic approach to housing and support services.

McKinnon says he has a number of recommendations he feels need to be acted on and moved forward to help improve the situation and says there are also some “quick fixes.”

McKinnon report will be presented to council next month.

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