Kelowna's new top cop is inheriting quite a challenge.
Insp. Nick Romanchuk, hired to replace Supt. Bill McKinnon, will take take over a regional force that polices the area with the the highest crime rate in Canada.
Thursday morning, Statistics Canada released its annual nationwide policing report proclaiming the Kelowna Census Metropolitan area as having the highest crime rate in the country in 2012.
Additionally, the crime severity index for 2012, which dropped nationally and in most metropolitan communities, climbed by 6 per cent.
The Greater Kelowna region includes the area from Peachland to Oyama.
Romanchuk, who still presides as Officer-In-Charge of the Kootenay/Boundary detachment, appeared before the Kelowna media Thursday morning to address the report.
"I am not here to make excuses. The numbers are what they are and we will build on it from here," stated Romanchuk.
"It is my goal that Greater Kelowna is never again mentioned in a Stats Canada report on crime unless Kelowna is being recognized for significant improvements that have been made."
The numbers released by StatsCan paint a picture of wide, sweeping increases in crimes involving a variety of thefts and drugs but a decrease in other crimes.
These numbers include:
- Property Crime +13.5%
- B & E +7%
- Motor Vehicle Theft +2.5%
- Theft From Vehicles +37%
- Fraud +19%
- Bicycle Theft +73%
- Other Crimes -9%
"Drug offences increased by about 3 per cent. To me that is an important statistic because that tells me the members here are being more pro-active," says Romanchuk.
"They are doing good work and they are getting more drugs off the street."
While Romanchuk says he doesn't believe Kelowna has a drug problem that is any greater than other communities he has worked in, he believes it is a positive thing when drug offence numbers go up.
"Those sorts of things show we are actively out there targeting these people, arresting them and taking them into custody before they have a chance to commit more crime.
Romanchuk was also pleased with the 2.5 per cent drop in violent crime.
The one troublesome statistic for Romanchuk was the increase in property crime.
"Property crime generally does not affect the safety of a person but it's troublesome to people," says Romanchuk.
"It's alarming to people when their house is broken into or their bike is stolen or their car window is smashed. Those things are important."
And, while the numbers seem daunting, Romanchuk says internal numbers from 2013 are encouraging.
Figures for the first six months of 2013 indicate crime has decreased by about 15% over the first six months of 2012.
"That leaves me feeling comforted to know that the work that is being done here in Kelowna is having an impact," says Romanchuk.
"I am quite confident in our ability to address community safety issues. I am very impressed with the very capable police officers and support within Kelowna Regional Detachment and I know that they are dedicated to improving the safety of the Greater Kelowna community."
Romanchuk says the groundwork laid in 2012 is responsible for the decrease over the first six months of this year.
Meantime, Kelowna City Manager, Ron Mattiussi, believes some of the increased statistics can be attributed to an increase in the police force.
Over the past 12 months the city has added 12 new members. They will add another 10 members by 2015.
"The real message for us is we saw those numbers, we saw what was happening and we invested in policing. We're serious about it and we will continue to do that," says Mattiussi who added that crime is not the number one priority in recent citizen surveys.
"It was about seventh after transportation. It's not top of mind as the absolute most important thing on people's minds. We don't dismiss it, we want to bring it down."
Mattiussi says Kelowna is also unique as a city of about 120,000 that swells by 1.5 million throughout the course of two months in the summer.
He says that has an impact on the numbers and allocation of resources.
"The concern is that statistics get covered without the background information that puts some of those numbers in context," adds Mattiussi.
"You have heard the Inspector say if we start targeting certain groups and the rate goes up - is that a good thing or is that a bad thing?"