Kelowna’s latest Community Public Safety Survey has good news, bad news and some mixed messages about how city residents view crime and its impact on their lives.
The telephone survey, conducted in February by Canadian professional pollster Leger (formerly NRG Research Group), found 25% of those surveyed reported they were victims of crime in the last 12 months.
In a similar study conducted by the company for the city in 2019, 28% of respondents said they were a victim of crime in the previous year.
Despite that answer, when respondents were asked if they felt crime in the city impacts their quality of life, eight in 10 said never, rarely or only occasionally. However half felt crime has increased in Kelowna in the last two years, 53% feel violent crime has increased in the city and seven in 10 feel property crime has increased.
Meanwhile, 96% said they feel safe in their neighbourhood during the day (down slightly from 99% in 2019) and 82% said they feel safe at night (up from 77% in 2019).
But it was a different story when it came to downtown. Forty-one percent said they felt less safe in the general downtown area, up from 31% in 2019, but that was offset by an 8% decrease in the percentage of residents who cited the downtown core, Leon Avenue and Lawrence Avenue specifically as less safe. (13% in 2022 compared to 22% in 2019.)
Leon Avenue is often cited as a concern by many city residents because Kelowna’s homeless population is most visible there, the Gospel Mission is located on the street and many homeless people camp out overnight on the sidewalks close to the Gospel Mission.
This year’s crime survey also showed an increase in the number of residents who feel Rutland is less safe, 21% compared to 14% in 2019.
Similar to two years ago, the latest survey identified property crime (43%) as the most important crime-related problem in the city (down from 45% in 2019), followed by drug-related and drug-use problems (down to 29% from 38% in 2019). Assault, violence and shooting offences came in third at 13%, up 5% from two years ago.
In a presentation about the survey to be made to city council on Monday, city staff will say the key takeaways this year are that Kelowna residents feel a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood and feel safe overall but are increasingly concerned about property crime. At the same time, staff says the survey shows most residents feel crime plays a minimum, or no role, in their lives unless they were a recent victim.
Staff will say the city may want to develop programs to support residents who have been victims of crime, consider outreach in the downtown core and in Rutland to alleviate perceptions those areas are unsafe and look at ways to “effectively” communicate actual levels of crime in the city, particularly police success in preventing crime.
That, say staff, could be done by focussing on crime reduction, as well as tracking and communicating decreases in property crime.
As part of this year’s survey, several questions were added based on findings in last year’s Kelowna Citizen’s Survey.
Respondents said decreasing property crime, petty theft and drug crimes should be the highest priorities for police and city council when it comes to keeping the community safe (96%), followed by building relationships and increasing communication between the police and the community and increasing police visibility (both at 92%).
When it comes to playing a large role in community safety, only 77% identified the RCMP, while 67% said the hospital, 62% said schools and 59% said mental health services.
Results of the survey will be used by city to address crime through its five-year Community Safety Plan.