On the streets

RCMP Const. James Grandy, who serves as the Penticton detachment’s spokesman and mental health intervention co-ordinator, speaks to a distraught person outside Burdock House in May 2021.

Penticton’s mayor has called a special council meeting for Thursday to discuss a private citizen’s proposal to take $5 million from city reserves to hire five new RCMP officers as soon as possible and fund their services for the next five years.

The idea was put forward earlier this month by Rick Thorpe, a former provincial cabinet minister and Okanagan MLA, who has also offered to help lobby senior governments to secure the new personnel.

Mayor John Vassilaki said he shares Thorpe’s concerns about public safety and Penticton’s undermanned RCMP detachment but hasn’t been able to get the rest of council to budge on hiring new police or bylaw officers until the matter is discussed at budget deliberations later this year.

“Unfortunately, the situation has gotten so bad that I can’t stand by and wait six months down the road until the budget process finishes or whenever we’re going to vote on it, which will probably be December or January,” Vassilaki told council’s Safety and Security Advisory Committee during its meeting Monday.

The mayor went on to suggest council has to “stop thinking strictly about money and start thinking about people,” because residents often tell him they “wouldn’t mind paying a little bit more on their taxes so they can feel safer.”

The chairman of the Safety and Security Advisory Committee also supports Thorpe’s proposal, but doesn’t think it goes far enough.

“I’m in support of increased policing, but I see this as a broader issue,” said Matt Taylor, who is also calling for more bylaw officers dedicated strictly to social issues and a public education campaign to help reduce relatively minor calls for service.

More details about Thursday’s special meeting are expected to be released today.

Community safety is one of three strategic priorities of city council, which approved hiring two new Mounties – who will lift the detachment’s staff complement to 50 members – as part of its 2021 budget process, although boots aren’t expected to be on the ground until 2022.

In 2019 – the most recent year for which data is publicly available from the B.C. government – each Mountie in Penticton had an average caseload of 170 files. That was by far the most of any detachment in a B.C. community with a population over 15,000; the next highest was Prince George at 134.