A fully staffed detachment has allowed the Penticton RCMP to finally put a drug squad on the streets — although its members prefer to work in the shadows.
“For the first time in, I would say, a decade, we’re at full strength,” Supt. Ted De Jager said Thursday with a total of 48 police officers in his detachment.
De Jager said boots from the Street Enforcement Unit are already on the ground. The three-officer team works closely with other specialty divisions, such as the Targeted Enforcement Unit.
“They’re going to be very effective. They’ve already started, but you won’t see them,” said De Jager.
The SEU is made up three officers — two constables and a corporal — one of whom was brought into the detachment, while the others were freed up through a reorganization. Their primary targets are drug dealers.
“The person who is benefiting from the misery of the drug users — that’s the person we need to target,” said De Jager.
“The perception of crime really needs to be focused on the people who are causing the crime, as opposed to the more visible and vulnerable people out there.”
The introduction of the city’s Good Neighbour Bylaw amendment, which makes sitting or lying on certain downtown streets illegal and subject to a $100 fine, can also be enforced by police officers.
“An RCMP can enforce pretty much any statute in Canada, including bylaws,” said De Jager. “Typically, we don’t. We have other issues to deal with.”
But criminal offences, such as aggression or other actions resulting in the loss of enjoyment of the space, said De Jager, would have RCMP intervening with possible mischief charges, resulting in conditions that bylaw officers cannot handle.
“At the core of what we do is solve problems,” said De Jager. “One tool we have to solve problems is put people in jail, but it should be, according to our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the very last thing that we do in Canada.”
De Jager said he understands the community’s frustration and the idea of jail being a quick solution, but that addressing the issues causing crime, such as drug addiction, needs to be the priority.
“Putting them in jail isn’t going to solve anything,” he said. “There are other issues at play here.”