Penticton goes military

RCMP Supt. Ted De Jager was spotted driving a utility terrain vehicle Friday in downtown Penticton. He said it was part of the RCMP’s “engagement strategy with the community.”

Forget about the “feel-good” downtown patrols in Penticton and expect more autonomy at RCMP detachments in neighbouring communities, the region’s top Mountie told local politicians Thursday.

Supt. Brian Hunter, who took over as commanding officer of the Penticton detachment in February also oversees RCMP offices in Summerland, Oliver, Osoyoos, Keremeos and Princeton.

In a quarterly presentation to the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, Hunter said he has given commanders in those smaller communities “a lot more autonomy and ability to command their detachment.”

Individual commanders will set their priorities in agreement with their respective municipal governments and report back specifically to those they serve.

“Previously there was one annual performance plan for the entire region, and that didn’t make sense to me in the sense every community has their own specific issues and every community will have their own specific way of dealing with issues,” he said.

Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff said she’d already met with Sgt. Joseph Bayda, who leads the detachment there, and signed off on his plan.

“We absolutely appreciate having the local commander helping you do your job,” said McKortoff.

Hunter has also assigned two of his sergeants to be liaisons to the four RDOS rural areas surrounding Penticton, and is working to get a permanent commander in place at the Oliver detachment.

His next move is “formulating a more robust crime-reduction strategy for the summer.”

“Our chronic offenders don’t have any borders, so it will be a regional approach to our chronic offenders – and there are a lot,” Hunter noted.

He’s also rearranging personnel in Penticton to focus on crime reduction, such as by paying overtime for help on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, rather than having Mounties pulling extra shifts doing daytime walk-throughs at downtown events.

“A lot of those are feel-good patrols; I’m looking to spend money to bring down our crime rate,” said Hunter.

As he told Penticton city council last month, COVID-19 and its impact on jails continues to hamper police efforts to get bad guys off the streets.

“Having a client of ours remanded (in custody) is basically not happening anymore, unless it is a serious offence where public safety is a major issue,” said Hunter, pointing to one prolific offender who was arrested last week on “well over a dozen charges… and was released the next day.”

Crime statistics presented to the RDOS board showed the first quarter of 2020 was on par with the first quarter of 2019 in most communities, with a few noticeable exceptions.

Okanagan Falls saw reports of property crime more than double from 16 to 35, while mischief files rose from one to nine.

Summerland had business break-ins spike from four to 21, although Hunter said “just about all of them” this year were related to the local landfill.

Keremeos enjoyed a decrease in arrests under the Mental Health Act, from 25 to five, and a drop in violent crime from 21 to six.