Penticton’s top cop says he wasn’t surprised by anything in the 200-page Focus on Safety report that came to city council this month.
“From my perspective, there are no surprises in the report,” said Supt. Brian Hunter.
“I’ve been here three years now and the workload is always increasing with a high caseload and because of that there is very little proactive policing we can do, if any right now,” he said.
City council ordered an independent review of emergency services in the city and to see if the services are being executed in the most efficient and effective way.
Dr. Curt Griffiths, a criminologist who helped create the report will presenting his findings at an online forum tonight (Thursday) starting at 6:30 p.m.
Hunter has been upfront with city council about the high caseload officers are taking on, many burning out or exhausted handling a mental health crisis on the streets.
Year after year, Penticton has been given the title of having the highest police caseload in B.C., higher than Kelowna and Kamloops. Crime, particularly violent crime is up 60 per cent, said the report.
Findings of the report revealed that 62 per cent of women feel unsafe walking alone in their own neighbourhood. Nearly 80 per cent of all surveyed feel crime in the city has gone up in recent years, with the city’s commercial portion of Main Street and the Lakeshore area as among the places where people feel somewhat “unsafe” at night.
The perception that crime is getting worse is correct, said Griffiths.
“Usually a public’s perception about crime is distorted and doesn’t match reality. In Penticton’s case, perception does match reality. Crime, particularly violent crime is up 60 per cent,” said Griffiths. “What I heard from residents is about the disorder and that doesn’t appear in any crime stats. That is lived experience.”
Why is crime considerably worse in Penticton compared to its neighbouring communities and across B.C.?
There is no simple answer, said Hunter.
“We have a a lot of vulnerable people here suffering in addictions and with mental health, many unhoused,” he said. “Adding more police will not have an impact with them but wrap around services and treatment will. That’s what is needed in this community.”
Hunter is hopeful that the Car40 program will come to Penticton soon to help with the mental health crisis on the streets. “We need to have experts that are trained to help.”
He is also hoping for a community safety unit working with bylaws. The report also called for a city staff title of community safety director and a mental health crisis team.
Hunter would like to see more officers brought to the detachment. The report suggests 12 officers need to be hired.
“Right now we can’t do any community engagement or proactive policing like the report calls for because we are at a capacity to only react,” said Hunter. “Adding more officers would allow to get back to monitoring prolific offenders and even do foot patrols.”
Hunter will be in front of council at their Feb. 7 meeting to provide the year-end crime data and expects the Focus on Safety report will be discussed.
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