By Lyonel Doherty
An organizer of Tuesday night’s crime forum suggested that a “working group” be formed to fight the scourge of crime in Oliver.
Shirley Zelinksi and her husband Michael Guthrie were very happy to see more than 450 people pack the community centre; a far cry from the 35 people who attended the Town-sanctioned crime forum in June.
“The South Okanagan’s current (crime) situation should not be the new normal,” Zelinski said, suggesting the formation of a special group funded by local tax dollars to combat crime.
She said some of the nine per cent tax increase in Oliver this year should be used for security purposes.
Willowbrook resident Rick Knodel, who’s running for Area C director, said the judicial system is letting police forces down by preventing them from carrying out their mandate.
Knodel said social change is also necessary because of the idea that nobody is responsible for their actions anymore.
“Well, I’m sorry Virginia, the big bad wolf isn’t all bad, he was abused as a pup. BS . . . it’s still a wolf, so you deal with a wolf.”
Knodel also stated that laws have to be changed for repeat, chronic offenders, suggesting that every offence after the 5th one should result in four months tacked on to their time.
Former Oliver mayor Pat Hampson said the number of police this community has does not match the number of problems there are.
“The thing that concerns me is that the RCMP ultimately take their orders from Ottawa.”
Hampson said Oliver may do better with a provincial police force like a lot of other communities do.
“They have much more control over what happens, and the councillors and politicians have much more immediate say in how things are done.”
Hampson added that the courts must be harsher on criminals because there is no deterrence.
Oliver RCMP Cpl. Christina Tarasoff acknowledged that crime is increasing, but it’s not increasing any more than other communities in the region.
“I know it feels like it is because it hits home and a lot of people have been victimized.”
Local realtor Brian Amos said if a community becomes known as a problem community, it will become stigmatized and it will affect real estate prices.
Amos said a “principal player” known to police lives in his neighbourhood.
“I don’t think the people truly know what you’re dealing with. This is organized crime.”
The realtor said people would be amazed at how many citizens of “upstanding quality” are purchasing drugs from the local dealer. He also said he witnessed high school students coming and going from this house.
“You’ve got to get to know the beast. The beast is well organized . . . they know when a police car comes within two blocks.”
Amos said the public needs to be informed, and there needs to be a better system of reporting what is going on in this town.
Christine Kirby, who worked for ICBC for 19 years, said people have to get back to basics by looking after their vehicles by making sure everything is out of sight. Even a pair of sunglasses can tempt a crystal meth user to smash the window and grab them, she said.
“One thing thieves don’t like to do is work hard,” Kirby said, noting if they don’t see anything in a vehicle and it’s locked, they will move on to the next one.
Local hairdresser Nicole Kriesel said her family has been hit multiple times by thieves, noting there are many preventable cases of opportunist theft in Oliver because people forget to lock up their valuables.
“These are the cases that we can reduce by being a bit more diligent. So let’s work on that, and let’s take those case files away from our short-handed RCMP.”
Kriesel said there is a 12 per cent RCMP vacancy rate in Canada right now, noting there are 483 vacant RCMP positions in B.C.
She added they are losing up to 800 members yearly due to a variety of reasons including retirement, sick leave and maternity.
“The staff shortage itself is majorly contributing to the sick leave portion because officers are overworked and burning out.”
Kriesel said the RCMP training depot produces about 950 cadets a year. So if you take away the 800 members being lost annually, that leaves only a national increase of only 150 extra officers to be distributed in each community.
Local senior Fern Gould said she fell in love with Oliver in 1953, but that love affair has been shaken since someone stole her husband’s truck out of their driveway recently. She explained that they hired a young man to clean their windows but later suspected he was merely “casing the joint.”
Gould said he stole their truck and used it to hitch up to a nearby trailer with an ATV on it.
“I feel very angry. I feel violated. I bought a baseball bat and put it by my door.”
Gould also said she is considering getting a Rottweiler, something that can “take the ass end off some of these a—holes.”
Darlene George, a member of the Osoyoos Indian Band, said she (like many others), lives in a high volume crime area.
“Whether it’s drug sales, auto theft, I see all of that right across the street from me.”
George said her nine-year-old daughter is scared to sleep in her room by herself.
But she noted the only thing people can do is be diligent by locking their doors or calling the police when they see something suspicious.
George said drugs are the cause of these crimes, noting that she is a recovering addict herself.
“Until we can get the resources to deal with those issues (and mental health addictions), these crime rates are going to keep growing.”
Steve DiCastri, warden of the Okanagan Correctional Centre, answered a question from one member of the audience who wanted to know how often the RCMP show up at the prison. The warden said two or three times a week.
Someone else wanted to know what happens to inmates when they are released.
DiCastri said inmates are returned to their own communities; they are not just let out in Oliver (unless they live here).
“If they get out of the car and say they aren’t getting on that bus, they’re free, we can’t force them onto that bus. Most of them do go home, but some of them choose not to.”
Pinder Dhaliwal, president of the BC Fruit Growers’ Association, said farmers are frequent victims of crime.
“Where are the authorities? Stop these people. They got no plates and they’re running right through the farms. The authorities have to step up the game and question these people.”
Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes said negative comments like “crime capital of Canada” can really hurt the community.
“It’s one thing to pick on me and my council members; we signed up for it so please do it. But don’t pick on the community.”
The mayor challenged everyone to help make a better Oliver by taking action, either by reporting suspicious activity or securing their valuables. He also advised people to use social media appropriately, not to make accusations that can get you in trouble.