If you ever want to hear the lies, damn lies and statistics argument, come to Kelowna on the day the national crime statistics are released and the RCMP and municipal top brass have to try to save tourism.
Statistics can be made to say anything, we are told. If it isn’t those dastardly statistical anomalies plaguing us, it is likely the influx of 1.5 million tourists come summer.
It’s the same every year, whether Kelowna tops the list of communities with high crime rates in Canada or falls just short of the crowning glory.
No one ever makes it clear how tourists impact the property crime rate increases—13.5 per cent this time—or why these nutty vacationers are after our bicycles—bike theft is up 73 per cent—but the tourists somehow seem to be the big wildcard in policing Kelowna.
And so we all go away wondering how the cops will ever sort through all those cans of terrible Alberta beer to deal with our petty issues.
From a public relations point of view, it’s a good strategy. Our city manager gets out in front of the issue to ensure the nation keeps vacationing in the Okanagan.
Nevertheless, when the beaches grow cloudy and that cool wind starts to blow, the residents of Kelowna are once again forced to focus on the money flowing from their collective pockets as society’s inability to deal with addiction, mental health issues, homelessness and general marginalization of some citizens leaves them living in a town where it’s safe to walk most streets, but car windows don’t stand a chance if there’s a loonie on the cushion of the passenger seat.
This is where the drug trade lies in the police-reported crime statistics released Thursday.
Our crime problems today are about an ongoing barrage of petty thefts in a city that doesn’t deal with the sharp divide between the rich and the poor well at all.
Crime is an issue for the middle to the lower-middle class who live in the areas and communal living situations—condos, rental apartments, small houses—where street-level drug activity is visible out the front window and it’s harder to protect your belongings from theft and vandalism.
Kelowna’s brand of crime isn’t scary; it’s just a stressful tirade of small issues—mail thefts and pilfered belongings—that send insurance rates up and make it even more difficult to make ends meet in a city with a high cost of living and low average income. And it is a shame.
The City of Kelowna has done a bang-up job of its planning and programming of late. Our downtown core just got a fantastic upgrade, we’re getting to have more community gardens (thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers), there’s all kinds of fantastic innovation in the arts (great volunteers and new business owners to be credited as well) and the recreational amenities continue to blossom.
People are generally happy with the city’s services and the surveys don’t reflect a big concern about crime the city manager tells us.
But then this is a social problem pegged on those who are the least likely to fill out a survey, those who sometimes struggle with literacy skills, raise young families on a minimal wages and never have time to sit with a paper.
People who come home to alarmed houses, climate controlled from afar by iPhones with video-monitored front stoops likely figure this high crime thing really is just a statistical anomaly.
For the people who struggle the most—like those who are left wondering if they are vulnerable when police don’t provide any response to questions about the goings on in their neighbourhood or even bother to show up when something small, like a bike, is stolen or destroyed—crime is a very real problem.
Kelowna’s crime is not a tourist threat and it is not an issue for the wealthier elements of the middle class, but it is not something to be brushed to the side either. Is crime worse here than any other community in Canada? Who knows or cares. Is it bad enough to make life difficult for those already struggling with living here? Absolutely. Lets just hope the incoming superintendent cares more about answering to every element of the public that pays his wages than the odd tourist his comments might scare away.