Last week I felt we had a productive town hall meeting on community policing and safety.
It was hosted by our new RCMP superintendent Ted De Jager. It was the first opportunity for members of the community to hear about policing priorities and philosophies from our commander. I was shocked to hear about the significant number of calls for service dealing with theft from vehicles that were left unlocked with valuables in plain sight and dropped 911 calls. Those are scenarios that each of us can contribute to help reduce, so other policing call priorities can get attended to sooner.
I was encouraged to hear him commit to a mental health officer, targeting prolific offenders, and investing in his staff (training and corporate culture).
The town hall was also an opportunity for the superintendent, along with part of his staff and other stakeholders, to hear concerns from the community. There were several instances of community frustration — mainly around drug use, property crime and concerns over mental health issues. While the venue wasn’t appropriate for individual scenarios and the handling of those situations, it did allow for some common themes. While some have given up reporting crime or suspicious behaviour, we were all reminded on the importance of reporting and how the crime analyst uses the data to target enforcement action, justify resources and argue for more support.
Many of the problems associated with community safety has deep roots in social issues, so it is easy to feel overwhelmed or frustrated with the lack of immediate action. Homelessness, addiction and mental health continues to grow and is perhaps the biggest social issue that all municipalities are facing. At our latest mayor’s meeting we talked about what is happening with these social concerns locally and in Vernon, Kelowna and West Kelowna. It is good to know that we are not alone, and sharing best practises is a good thing.
People associate addiction with homelessness and/or crime which isn’t a fair stereotype or assumption. Yes, like all segments of the population, there will be some bad apples. You wouldn’t throw out an entire box of apples because one or two apples were bad. However, if you don’t deal with the bad apples they soon infect others and can create a rotten situation. One of our biggest issues in our community is dealing with the prolific offenders, once we arrest and incarcerate one the crime rate reduces. I too have been impacted by theft of property, so I also feel frustrated.
I don’t understand how Crown counsel and judges, who live in our communities, are so keen to offer lenient sentences or nothing at all to prolific offenders. We have some prolific offenders with 20 to 30 convictions walking the streets and continuing nefarious activities at known locations often in broad daylight. That is perhaps my biggest frustration with the system, and while we acknowledge the system needs an overhaul there doesn’t appear to be the political will to make the necessary changes. It was like pulling teeth to get a community impact statement (from me as the mayor) included as part of Crown counsel’s sentencing submission for a prolific offender which that person thankfully did get a stiffer sentence.
As a council we have begun raising awareness and concern on the issues of addiction, mental health and homelessness. In early August we are helping to facilitate dialogue with the various stakeholders, non-profits, faith based groups and agencies that deal with these issues to create a strategy. It would be nice to have a plan that deals with these issues proactively compared to current old school, out dated and reactive approach. It would be more cost effective than the current model. The provincial NDP’s platform was all about social issues and solutions, so hopefully they will come to the table.
There is power with peoples collective voice provided it is focused and I encourage you reach out to our MLA and the Attorney General as they have the power to initiate change — that is one element of our strategy.