This week Statistics Canada released crime data in which, apparently, Penticton ranks 19th.
The Crime Severity Index (CSI) rates the amount and seriousness of crimes reported. Part of the challenge is the formula. The numbers are based on X crimes per 100,000 people, so mathematically smaller centres tend to rise higher on the list than larger centres due to those larger centre’s populations obscuring the averages. Case in point — there are cities in the Lower Mainland that have shootings on a weekly basis, average between 60-90 shootings in one year, yet Penticton is ranked worse?
I’ve been told that our crime rates have decreased for the second quarter of 2018; that’s good news. It’s currently summer, the period when we see the biggest influx of people coming into our community, so it will be interesting to note if that downward trend continues. In terms of personal safety, Penticton is a very safe place. But yes, we do have problems with homelessness, mental health, addictions and petty crime. I’ve spoken with several mayors across B.C., including those in the north, that are going through the same issues we have, so it’s not just the sunny Okanagan that is attracting these marginalized people.
We have launched a “see something, say something” campaign to encourage people to call in their observations of bad behaviour or situations where safety is infringed upon. The city and RCMP have stepped up enforcement to curb bad behaviour. In the past there was a stigma to drinking and doing drugs in public; today, unfortunately, this behaviour appears to be more frequently accepted. Now, some people think party time can take place anywhere, hence the actions of some suddenly affect many.
Common sense would have you believe that if someone is drinking alcohol or consuming illegal substances in public that they would be arrested, or at least have their alcohol dumped out or drugs confiscated, yet sometimes nothing happens. That’s frustrating. The same would be said for someone suspiciously riding their bike with bolt cutters sticking out of their backpack or observed running erratically out of a neighbourhood. I feel the pendulum for people’s entitlements has shifted too far in favour of the criminal element. A great example is safe injection sites now being permitted within our prisons — allowing the injection of an illegal substance while incarcerated. Criminals are very aware of their rights and count on police and society to allow them to push the envelope and challenge our tolerance for bad behaviour.
It is not fair to stereotype all homeless people as addicts or criminals and I think the city is doing what we can to help the most vulnerable. We are grateful for BC Housing’s support in the past and recent announcement to add another 62 units for the homeless. The province has also provided a $50,000 grant to establish the Community Active Support Table (CAST) which brings all the social, protective and government agencies together to proactively deal with people ready to change or help the vulnerable to turn their lives around.
We have invested in more bylaw officers, private security and increases to RCMP staffing and budgets. This fall at UBCM we are planning on attending minister meetings to lobby for more rural police officers and meeting with the Attorney General about prolific offenders, intermittent sentencing and stiffer consequences for the drug-related offences that we’ve been focusing on.
The challenges we face are societal problems throughout our country and getting the results we desire here requires the involvement of many participants. Yet despite those misleading and discouraging figures from Statistics Canada detailing crime in our community, I remain confident that progress is and will continue to be made across the range of tough issues we’re experiencing.