Waters: Can retired Kelowna top cop leave his old badge at the door?

Current and former Kelowna RCMP superintendents using different approaches to tackle downtown crime

On the same day that current Kelowna top cop Supt. Brent Mundle told Kelowna city council he is stepping up police presence downtown because of increasing crime there, particularly due to drug use, the city hired one of Mundle’s predecessors to figure out bureaucratic ways of making downtown safer for the public.

On Monday, as Mundle was presenting his quarterly policing report to council, the city issued a news release saying former Kelowna RCMP superintendent Bill McKinnon has been hired on contract to find ways to ensure the public “feels safe” on city streets.

And it stressed that despite McKinnon’s police background, his focus will not be on enforcement but rather on co-ordination of all levels of government to identify services required “before there’s a need for enforcement.”

The move seemed to echo Mayor Colin Basran’s pronouncement in council chambers Monday that dealing with crime downtown will take a concerted effort by a number of different groups, not just the police.

McKinnon’s task is being compared to the work the Journey Home Task Force, which focused on the homelessness in the city. In McKinnon’s case, it will be a focus on community agencies and other levels of government to identify gaps in the system that need to be filled, and how best to do that.

“We are doing our part when it comes to law enforcement, however just adding more enforcement (i.e. more cops) is clearly not enough,” said the mayor. “The RCMP have indicated that until there is a stronger focus by all levels of government on upstream prevention to address the social issues that are contributing to criminal activity, no amount of enforcement is going to solve the problem.”

And therein lies the problem. A cop on every corner is not the answer.

As Basran states: “We are recently experiencing more criminal activity in concentrated areas, which is negatively impacting our community despite our increased enforcement efforts. There is a limit to how much can be solved through enforcement and we need to work more cooperatively and collaboratively with our partners to ensure services are in place to minimize crime from occurring in the first place.”

What the city has seen is a decrease in crime overall in the last five years, but localized increases. Bringing in an experienced administrator with a policing background should bode well for the city as long as McKinnon can separate his former job from his current one, and leave what he used to do to the guy who’s now doing it.

Despite the concerns of some, downtown Kelowna is not Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It has problems commensurate with the size of the city.

Addressing them now, before they get out of hand, is a smart move by city hall. And dealing with the problem from a multi-directional approach is a wise way to go.

For both Mundle and McKinnon, the clock is ticking. In Mundle’s case, it’s keeping a lid on what could grow to be an out-of-control situation quickly if not contained. And for McKinnon, it’s finding solutions by November, just in time for a new city council to consider.

Both men, it would seem, have their work cut out for them.

Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.

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