By Lyonel Doherty
The RCMP’s new officer in charge says he’s going to be tough on prolific offenders who make the South Okanagan their playground.
Superintendent Brian Hunter mentioned this several times during his introduction to the media on Wednesday at the Penticton RCMP detachment.
“The ultimate goal for all of us is a safe community, a safe place to live, work and play,” he said after his first week on the job.
But Hunter acknowledged a big challenge they are facing, referring to medical health issues in Penticton and the South Okanagan, including addictions that result in “survival crimes.” He noted his job is to identify the chronic offenders and hold them to account through the court system.
Hunter said repeat offenders represent a very small portion (five to 10 per cent) of the criminals out there, but they are the ones accounting for 90 per cent of the crimes. That’s why his number one priority is to support front-line officers in dealing with these large call volumes. In fact, he said Penticton’s case load is nearly double the provincial average.
The superintendent said if they had an unlimited bucket of money, those funds should be directed towards people who are struggling with addiction and mental health issues.
“Ultimately, if that’s taken care of, crime would almost be eliminated when it comes to drugs and property crime.”
Hunter has more than 26 years of service with the RCMP. He classified himself as an expert in general duty policing and community safety. He is married with two adult children, and has a degree in math and physics. He previous posting was in Port Alberni.
The officer said dealing with social media is very challenging today, and noted the responsibility of everyone to ensure the information they put out there is accurate.
“False information or perhaps a story that’s out there and you don’t have the information from the police just yet, people will make up their own narrative which is very dangerous.”
Hunter said he won’t be focusing on the very few naysayers out there who like to “stir things up.” Instead, his focus is on community safety.
The superintendent was asked to comment on the perceived lack of policing or crackdown on vagrancy and loitering, which has caused a lot of frustration among residents.
Hunter said the key word here is “perceived.”
“No one is saying just because it’s an addiction, just because there’s mental health issues we’re not going to deal with it. Oh, we’re going to deal with it. You bet ya, we’re going to deal with it the best that we can.”
He pointed out that a lot of the mental health issues get put on the laps of police who end up working in collaboration with their community partners to get help for these people. “Not every case is going to be a complete success, but we’re going to try for that.”
Hunter said he is a huge proponent of saying, “We will not arrest our way out of this (problem).” But that doesn’t mean they won’t arrest people and hold them to account, he reiterated.
Hunter was also questioned about the other frustration from people who continually see these offenders being arrested, go through the court system, get bail and reoffend.
“It’s very frustrating, I can tell you that,” he agreed. But he said that’s where police (crime analysts) can do their homework and present comprehensive bail sheets to the Crown (on the offender’s activities) to help judges make better decisions.
Hunter was asked to comment on the Okanagan Correctional Centre and the pressure it is putting on the Oliver RCMP, which was supposed to get two additional officers to offset the demand that the prison is having on police resources.
The superintendent said he will be looking at this particular issue.
“We’ve got to be very careful that it’s just not anecdotal where we think crime has gone up somewhere; we have to have the numbers and the metrics to support that and support our decisions and our requests.”
Hunter said his job is not to micro-manage regional detachments like Oliver and Osoyoos, it’s to support them, and if the metrics are there for two additional officers, he will support that.
The officer in charge was asked if he would take a tougher stance on prolific offenders then former Supt. Ted de Jager. Hunter said he couldn’t say that, but said he doesn’t believe for a moment that de Jager didn’t take a tough stance on these criminals.
“To say take a tougher stance would seem to lead to the fact that we weren’t being tough on criminals before. I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think there’s an opportunity for better awareness in the community in what the police do and our challenges.”
Hunter clarified that he is tough on crime, adding the detachment is as efficient as it can be with the resources it has. He noted their caseload is “through the roof,” reiterating that it’s double the provincial average.
The superintendent admitted that it might take police 10 hours to get to a file involving the break-and-enter of a shed because there are multiple files already in the queue.
“I’m not saying that shed that was broken into wasn’t serious, but on the priority list, we only have so many resources here.”
He noted some of their day shifts in the summer have 60 to 70 files, and sometimes there are only five or six officers attending to those.
The commander commented on what the public can do to best help the RCMP prevent crime. He said it’s important for people to be aware of their surroundings, particularly in their neighbourhood, and encouraged them to report all suspicious activity.
“They might have a piece of that puzzle that we’ve been looking for to put the big picture together.”
It’s also important for people to ensure their valuables are always locked up so they don’t create an environment where criminals have the opportunity to commit crime.
In terms of dealing with addictions and mental health, Hunter said he was very happy to hear that a hub (intervention) table may soon be established in Oliver and Osoyoos.
He said this is an excellent way to get to the root of the problem, in fact, the only way we’re going to solve issues in the community through a collaborative, team approach.
Hunter said he lives by three principles that he uses to guide himself. They are: Be honest with people; be helpful; and be human. “If what you are about to say or do is not helpful, then don’t say it or don’t do it.”
To be human, police officers sometimes have to take their hats off, Hunter said.
“People are suffering, we need to be human . . . connect with people, try to understand through their lens what they’re going through.”