Elimination of the civilian community police liaison position will not negatively impact volunteer-based, RCMP programs according to Insp. Kevin Hewco, head of the Penticton detachment.
Hewco was responding to concerns raised by members of the Citizens on Patrol (COPs) group who are worried the loss of the city job could mean the end of the organization.
“Those people are our eyes and ears on the street and they’re backup for our members, truly a valuable commodity and these are people who are volunteering and giving back to their community,” said Hewco, Tuesday. “I can’t say enough about them, I would not risk losing that program. We will not lose that program.
“Service delivery is huge to me, community policing is huge to me, volunteerism is huge to me and I don’t want to jeopardize any of that. To me, community policing is critical.”
To that end and to alleviate some of the concerns volunteers have, Hewco plans to meet with as many of the groups and individuals as possible in the near future.
The inspector’s comments came as welcome news to at least one of COPs longtime member, Bill Kolter.
“That is what we wanted is for someone to sit down and talk to us and give us an explanation,” said Kolter. “So what we do is wait and see if he does what he says he will. All we want is to be able to keep doing what we are doing.
“The people who do this, do it proudly. We’re not police officers, we don’t want to be police officers, we’re strictly the eyes and ears of the RCMP and we want to stay that way.”
Hewco stressed the decision to eliminate the position of community policing co-ordinator was not easy and was in no way a reflection on the work done by former RCMP officer Jim Porteous who has held the position since the fall of 2010.
His job finishes April 29.
The inspector also denied rumours he was instructed by the city to look for ways of cutting the community policing budget.
“This was done as part of my critical service-delivery review, I was not given any head-hunting instructions by the city,” said Hewco. “I was going to do a review anyway and I that is how I made my decision.
“I realize it’s a painful decision and nobody takes these things lightly but I am also responsible to the people of Penticton and I’m duty-bound to advise them. Was it based on a recommendation from me? Yes.”
The inspector added that information circulating that the duties of the position will be taken over by a regular RCMP member are incorrect.
An officer has already be chosen to oversee the volunteer services including Lock Out Auto Crime and Speed Watch, but the regular tasks will remain with the civilian staff.
“At the end of the day it was a matter if I could, with a clear conscience and with today’s fiscal environment, I stand before the mayor of Penticton and say you’re getting the best bang you can possibly get with the positions you’re funding, the answer was no,” said Hewco.
“Do they (council) have an expectation that I will do a service review upon occupying the chair of commander and do they have an expectation that I manage my budget and cautiously spend public money? Absolutely, and so would I.”