Mayor: 'People are terrified'

South Okanagan RCMP regional commander Supt. Ted De Jager was in the hot seat Tuesday, dealing with Penticton's new city council for the first time.

De Jager’s assurances that “Penticton is a safe city” came under attack from Mayor John Vassilaki, who said residents he’s heard from don’t feel the same way.

“I can assure you sir, people are terrified in the downtown area and the surrounding residential area as well,” Vassilaki said, asking for police to be more visible in the area.

“What they are really asking for is boots on the ground… for all that money that the city is putting forward, the taxpayers of Penticton, they need to feel that they are protected and don’t need to fear anything.”

Coun. Katie Robinson was also critical of De Jager’s characterization of the community as safe.

“What are you basing that on? Because as someone that’s lived here for 30 years I can tell you that it’s not as safe as it used to be by a long stretch,” she said.

She referred to rankings conducted by Macleans that listed Penticton this year as Canada’s 17th “most dangerous” city.

“There are a lot of people in this town that have grave concerns about their safety now, elderly people who won’t go out after 7 p.m.,” she continued.

De Jager dismissed the Macleans crime rankings, which relies on the crime severity index, as deeply flawed — a view widely shared in the policing community.

He said comparing a city under 50,000 people to one of more than a million where “people are literally having gun fights on the street” is absurd, stating crime simply does not scale proportionally with population.

De Jager pointed to local statistics that showed just two per cent of calls were violent in nature, with the vast majority of those attributed to domestic violence or a high-risk lifestyle.

He spoke about a recent interaction with an elderly woman that wanted to buy a handgun or weapon to defend herself against a hypothetical random home invasion.

“That’s never happened, that didn't happen last year or the year before — it happens to drug dealers who get other drug dealers kicking in their door and doing a home invasion,” he said.

“But the notion that we’ve somehow come to this perplexing conclusion that that will happen in this community, because of whether its social media, or whether its certain people that have an agenda to play out is troubling, because it's simply not true.”

In 2018 through to Nov. 30, violent crime in Penticton has grown 20 per cent driven in part by 11 per cent growth in domestic violence files, something De Jager called “disconcerting.”

He said, however, that the detachment has seen huge success pushing down property crime with rates of auto theft (down 28 per cent) and residential break and enter (down 26 per cent) falling significantly.

In response to concerns about visibility or downtown patrols, De Jager pointed to the five-member Community Support and Enforcement Team, which started rolling in January and has been spending most of its time downtown.

“I can drive police cars up and down downtown all day long, but I will ask council what you don’t want me to do, because that’s the fact — it's a resourcing issue.”

De Jager said he welcomes future talks with the new council about expectations on the visibility issue downtown.

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