The Downtown Penticton Association is calling for a more personal approach to policing in the downtown area.
In a presentation to council, DPA president Ryan Graham, owner of Clancy’s Liquor Store on Martin Street, said DPA members feel a lack of engagement from police downtown has made room for more frequent issues in the area.
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Graham invited staff and council to go downtown with him to talk around and “truly see the problems that we have.”
“We have to come together today and form a team and move forward united all on the same page and start getting to work on changing the downtown culture,” he said.
Coun. Judy Sentes suggested police are encouraged to get out of their cars and walk the downtown beat, and asked Graham whether that was something he had been seeing at all.
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“I would say absolutely not. I’m a big proponent that the proof’s in the pudding, and as far as we’re concerned as a DPA membership, ownership, it’s not happening,” Graham said. “It’s non-stop, and it just didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a few years that’s compounded this, and now we have lost the entire control of the downtown.”
Graham said his picture of success on that front would be policing that saw officers getting out of their vehicles downtown and “dealing with the culture.”
“I always sound like a broken record when I say culture, but that’s what it is,” he said. “Officers aren’t getting out of their vehicles, they’re not dealing with open infractions that we see multiple times a day, so it’s going to take baby steps, but gain I think it’s time to hit the refresh. … If we don’t go to work, it’s only going to get worse.”
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Graham said the DPA leadership hears examples of members making calls to police — “whether it be someone walking into a pawn shop at three o’clock in the afternoon with a handgun, or whether it be someone overdosing in the Burger King parking lot” — but the response times, he said, are too long.
“By the time the RCMP come, it’s already done. The person is gone, and that’s the problem right now. There’s no visible force in our downtown,” he said.
The Penticton RCMP recently put together the Community Support and Enfrocement Team, intended to deal with regular offenders, and Sentes said she would like to see some action from that group on the downtown.
“In my opinion, I would like to see them focus on the downtown. We have to get a handle on what is going on,” Sentes said.
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Chief administrative officer Peter Weeber said in conversations he has had with Penticton RCMP Supt. Ted De Jager, he feels comfortable that is an issue that will be tackled.
“But we’d certainly be happy to work as a team with the DPA and other groups and the RCMP to outline their strategy moving forward and have some reportables, or some tangible success sometime here in the next three months,” he said.
Graham’s presentation was directly followed by a presentation from De Jager, who gave an outline on the fourth quarter and year-end statistics on policing and crime.
“Certainly my priorities over the past eight or nine months since I’ve been here was to get our detachment up to full strength, and that’s not just a question of funding, that’s a question of ensuring that our members are trained and in a position to provide the policing services that we are expected to do,” De Jager said.
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He added that CSET doesn’t just target downtown, but is there to support the community, whether that is downtown or in issues of mental health.
According to De Jager’s statistics, business break-and-enters have actually dropped in 2017, compared to the year previous — a drop of about 10 per cent — while property crime as a whole saw tepid growth, at about six per cent.
Much of that jump was accounted for in the 79-per-cent leap in other break-and-enters, which refers to non-residential, non-business incidents.
“Our priority, and I’ve always been very upfront about this, is always going to be the protection of life and safety of the individual, and that will always trump a property crime,” De Jager said.
CSET leader Cpl. Laurie Rock said for RCMP to get involved a call needs to be placed.
“If you’re saying that you’re in a car surrounded by homeless people swarming you at five in the morning, you need to call us,” she said, responding to an example brought up by Sentes. “We would have been there in a heartbeat at five in the morning.”
She said that logic applies to when DPA members see things like drug use and drug deals going on in the downtown area, as well.
“If we don’t get called about drug deals, those are the people our team is super anxious to catch.”