By Lyonel Doherty
Helping a young, single mother who just shoplifted from a grocery store to put food on the table is one important focus of the RCMP these days under a new program that looks at real solutions to crime.
“The solution is housing, social support and services, and getting her a job,” said Penticton RCMP Supt. Ted de Jager.
The commander made this statement on Wednesday during a media conference that touched on the RCMP’s new Community Active Support Table (CAST). This program focuses more on helping people with mental health issues and drug addictions as opposed to bringing the heavy hammer of justice down on them.
Once police discover that the solution doesn’t involve a criminal charge, they will refer the offender to a support agency.
“The intent is to get all of our partner agencies going and there is tons of support out there,” de Jager said.
In support of this, the RCMP is continuing with enhanced patrols throughout the region.
“For instance, on Canada Day in Osoyoos, a big day for Osoyoos, there’s lots of extra patrols in that area.”
De Jager said the RCMP has heard loud and clear that property crime is the big issue, which he added is the domain of the prolific offender.
“We have focused a lot of effort on prolific offenders in this community,” he said, noting that break and enters in the first six months of 2018 were down 30 per cent (in Penticton).
He noted that break-ins are one of the most traumatic things that you can experience; having your home or property violated in that way.
De Jager said there is an assumption that people aren’t reporting crime, but that’s not true.
He stated their reports of suspicious persons and drug activity are up significantly, and that’s exactly what the RCMP has asked the public to do.
“I can’t say it enough, there is no time when someone feels unsafe that they should not call the police.”
De Jager said calls for service are placed in a prioritized queue, for example, a violent crime is always going to take precedence over property crime.
He pointed out that theft from auto remains at the top of their list. In the first six months of 2018, there were approximately 450 theft from autos in Penticton. About half of those vehicles were unlocked, the superintendent reported.
“I just don’t know how to get the message out that you have to lock your doors and you have to remove your valuables.”
De Jager said break and enter statistics will go up this summer as they always do, particularly when Penticton’s population doubles and Osoyoos’ triples.
The commander pointed out that 40 per cent of their calls in the region is where police intervention can result in a charge. That means in 60 per cent of their calls, the police are not the solution to the problem. Instead, another agency would be much more appropriate to find the solution. For example, police recently dealt with one individual who had been causing a significant amount of property damage. It was discovered that the offender had significant mental health and addiction issues.
“We can arrest him all day long, but that’s not going to stop him; he’s going to be out, and that’s not a criticism of the courts, that’s Canada – we do not incarcerate people if we can find other solutions.”
In this case, the individual is getting the help he needs and the property crime is over, the officer said.
De Jager was asked about the problem issues in Oliver and Osoyoos and how the RCMP is dealing with them.
He said the big issue is the increase in the summer population, including transients. But the majority of prolific offenders in Oliver are from the community, he pointed out.
“The positive is we know exactly who they are and we know how to target them.”
But typically the offences they are seeing in Oliver and Osoyoos are related to property crime, de Jager said. Whereas Penticton has seen a 30 per cent drop in thefts and break-ins, there’s an increase in these crimes in Oliver and Osoyoos, he stated.
The commander said many ATVs are stolen in these areas, and most of the vehicles taken had the keys in them.
“We need to work together to make sure that we’re looking out for each other,” he said, noting another program they are instituting across the region is Block Watch.
“We don’t need people confronting prolific offenders, but by opening your front window, or if someone is lurking around your car, you say, ‘what are you doing?’ from a safe distance – that stops that right in its tracks.”
De Jager said they are constantly assessing RCMP staffing levels in Oliver and Osoyoos, and are always mindful at filling vacancies when they arise.
Staff Sgt. Kirsten Marshall said they have had some enhanced shifting in the Oliver detachment to target specific areas and hot spots.
De Jager said the plan to acquire two additional officers for Oliver is still in discussion with the province and will likely be brought up again at the Union of BC Municipalities convention this fall.
“Those are staffing levels beyond our control, but that is something we would certainly welcome.”
Another issue that de Jager commented on was security cameras. He said cameras on private property have to be inward facing because they are not meant to capture public spaces, or they shouldn’t due to breach of privacy.
If a community wanted to erect cameras, they would have to have a privacy impact assessment, de Jager pointed out.
“But simply pointing a camera into a public area, that’s not something that we would do as the police (except in cases where public safety outweighed the public’s privacy).”
De Jager said the RCMP doesn’t advocate that people live in a fortress but he does recommend security measures, such as monitored alarm systems and high-definition video cameras.
“Those prolific offenders get the hint pretty quickly . . . the last time I went into one of these houses (with cameras) I went to jail, so I’m not coming back.”