A new report states that Penticton’s approach to community safety is in need of an overhaul, amid a lack of support from the B.C. government, increased homelessness and the ongoing opioid crisis.
Penticton RCMP cannot proactively serve the community, local fire crews have been removed from their core function and calls to bylaw have increased by 243 per cent since 2017, the city’s newly-elected council will hear on Tuesday, Dec. 20, when presented with the results in a 200-page, independent study.
While six bylaw officers and four new members of the RCMP have been hired since last year, the report calls for the addition of 32 community-safety positions to the tune of more than $5 million.
“Our current situation is not sustainable,” the city’s general manager of community services, Anthony Haddad, told reporters at a Friday morning press conference. “For example, if we keep adding RCMP officers but then there’s no investment for mental health, we’ll just be in the same place.”
The report reveals that more than 50 per cent of calls to the Penticton Fire Department are medical-related and that RCMP officers have responded to a 56 per cent increase in mental health calls.
Most of the medical calls involve responding to overdoses.
A total of 54 community-safety recommendations are made in the report, with most of which falling outside of municipal jurisdiction. As a result, Haddad says the city can only try to fill the missed provincial service gaps for so long.
“The report is unambiguous that we cannot afford to continue to carry the burden,” he added.
Among the solutions provided in the report include implementing a Penticton mental-health crisis team, purchasing one fire response vehicle and hiring a director for public safety.
Between 2017 and 2021 in Penticton, there was a 63 per cent increase in violent crime. The B.C. average for municipalities with RCMP detachments and a population of more than 15,000 is 36 per cent.
The report also revealed whether Penticton residents feel safe in their community. More than 800 people responded to a city survey earlier this year, with 62 per cent of women feeling unsafe walking alone in their own neighbourhood and 80 per cent uncomfortable when shopping alone at night.
In total, data indicates that 79 per cent of Penticton’s population feels that crime has gone up in recent years. Findings reference the city’s commercial portion of Main Street and the Lakeshore area as among the places where people feel somewhat “unsafe” at night.
To meet the increase in demand, RCMP budgeted expenses have increased by 43 per cent, bylaw services have increased by 350 per cent and fire resources by 43 per cent.
While Haddad says there are ” promising signs” that help from the provincial government is on its way, he also adds that the report clearly states B.C. has not done enough to help the local community safety efforts.
“You can definitely see in this report the lack of provincial investment that has been made in community safety-related issues that stem from mental health and health-related concerns.
City staff will ask council this Tuesday to use the report as part of its strategic plan for dealing with community safety.
Mayor Julius Bloomfield and the newly-elected group will meet at 1 p.m. for its third regular meeting since the Oct. 15 election.