Cycle of petty crime needs provincial action if change is to happen: city administrator

Frustrated with court system

Frustration with the court system and how repeat offenders are dealt with is growing in Kamloops, according to a top city administrator.

Byron McCorkell, community and protective services director, says petty crime has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting a growing issue around how the court system works. Central to the issue are repeat offenders, who are being released into the public shortly after being charged with petty crimes.

"There was a recommendation made to not put people into the provincial court system jails for less than 90 days," he explains to Castanet. "Any of these lower-level crimes became conditions of the court; that was the way restitution was found."

"So you have a number of individuals who have long lists of conditions, but they’re still on the street."

This group of regular offenders are committing low-level crimes (like stealing packages off porches or bikes from backyards), but don't rise to a high enough level that would incur a jail sentence longer than 90 days, McCorkell says.

"There’s definitely a frustration level that’s brewing within the community, specifically from the business community," he says.

McCorkell notes the city hears that frustration regularly, often fielding calls from upset locals, due to the proximity of local government.

"We’re here every day... you can talk to the mayor or you can talk to staff or you can talk to me, but we’re not the ones that are able do the response. We have to work with the provincial government, which is distant from the community. They’ve got offices in Victoria," he explains.

At this week's council-to-council meeting between the city and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, McCorkell spoke about how despite RCMP efforts, offenders could be out and committing new crimes within a day.

"We’re looking for the provincial government to do something with the court system," he said.

While people often turn to the city for help, there's little the city as a legal entity can do; health care and the justice system are the domain of upper governments. To that end, the city lobbies provincial agencies (like Interior Health and BC Housing) on these issues.

"Unfortunately, residents will express to us, 'What’s the city doing about this?' Well, that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to take the problem, present it to the people who can make a change and then partner with them to make it happen locally," McCorkell tells Castanet.

Ideas about solutions exist, too.

"We’re saying there needs to be some adjustments made in the criminal system; whether there’s a mental health court to allow a different direction for people who are suffering with mental health rather than going through the criminal system, or whether it’s a drug court where you’ve got individuals who are dependent on drugs that maybe need to be treated in a different way than going to jail or whether it’s providing a safe supply of drugs so they don’t have to do the break and enters... there’s a long list of issues of solutions, but it’s up to the provincial government to do something," McCorkell explains.

Mental health courts in particular are promising, he adds, pointing to the work being done at Thompson Rivers University. Meanwhile, sobering centres have been a brought up by Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian several times.

"We would support completely (mental health courts), our RCMP would completely support that," McCorkell says. "We've been pushing Interior Health to look at detox and sobering centres as another mechanism to get people out of the court system, out of the jail system and into what would hopefully be a positive outcome."

"There's lots of opportunities to partner but it comes down to resources," he adds.

He notes that while these are all solutions that could work, whatever happens would need to be enacted across the province as many communities are facing the same struggles.

"We as a society, and as a community, we’re all struggling with the same things."

The city is working on lobbying a variety of elected politicians and un-elected bureaucrats for change. McCorkell says the city has spoken with police as well.

"I think you’re hearing more and more from the police, where they’re suggesting, 'There’s gotta be something different,'" he says.

With a snap election just called, McCorkell says this may be the chance for those invested in the issue to make some noise.

"It’s a very challenging and frustrating situation and I think here we are in a provincial election, maybe people should start putting that voice out there, that these are some of the things that we’re looking for our elected officials to deal with and to champion new ideas. ... If we keep doing what we've been doing, we're going to keep getting what we've been getting."

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