While careful not to insult his predecessor, Penticton’s new RCMP commander didn’t mince words Wednesday when asked if he’ll take a tougher stand on crime.
“To take a tougher stance, I think, would be talking negatively about Supt. (Ted) De Jager,” incoming Supt. Brian Hunter told local media during an introductory press conference.
“I will say this: I am tough on crime. I’ll leave it at that.”
Hunter arrived in Penticton last week, after leaving the post he held as Port Alberni’s detachment commander since 2016.
A 26-year veteran of the RCMP, the native of Alton, Ont., has spent his entire career in B.C., with stops in Shawnigan Lake, Telegraph Creek, Dease Lake, Salmon Arm, Williams Lake and Parksville.
Hunter, who’s married with two adult children, said his immediate priority in Penticton is stomping down the crime rate by targeting prolific offenders who commit an inordinate share of offences in the community.
He noted, however, that most prolific offenders are suffering from drug addictions or mental health issues, which “gets put on the laps of members to deal with.”
“So my job is twofold: to actively investigate those crimes, identify our chronic offenders and hold them to account through the court system,” Hunter continued.
“That said, the causation of these crimes is a health issue. It’s addictions, it’s mental health, so that’s where we’ll end up working with community partners to get to the root of the problem.”
But he dismissed the notion police are soft on crime involving social issues.
“If there was a perception that the police were saying, ‘No, it’s an addictions issue, we’re not going to deal with it,’ that’s wrong. That absolutely wrong. That’s not the case here at all,” said Hunter.
The new commander inherits a detachment that is the busiest in B.C. by caseload.
As of 2018, the most recent year for which data is available, Mounties in Penticton had an average load of 113 cases each. The next highest was 96 at the Courtenay detachment.
Hunter said he’ll deal with that workload by making the detachment as efficient as possible.
He said he’ll also work closely with the Crown to ensure judges have the most complete information possible before rendering bail and sentencing decisions, and that he’ll ensure the City of Penticton, which spends about $9 million on policing annually, gets the most bang for its buck.
City manager Donny van Dyk said council’s top priority is community safety, which will be well-served by Hunter’s forthright communication style, “action-oriented personality, and really his focus on front-line policing and crime reduction.”
Council during its budget deliberations in December approved adding an extra officer to the detachment, which lifted it complement to 49, plus 26 full-time-equivalent civilian staff.
De Jager, who had an at-times rock relationship with City Hall, was transferred to B.C. RCMP headquarters last fall after just two years in Penticton.