Opinion: Community safety is 'Job One' says Kelowna's mayor

Addressing crime in the city

Castanet is introducing a new, monthly column by Kelowna Mayor Tom Dyas, in which he will talk about city issues and what is being done by city hall to address them. The column will appear on the second Monday of the month.

Following through on my pledge to provide transparent, clear communication to Kelowna’s residents, this is my first monthly column dedicated to providing you with background and insights into city council decisions and city business.

One council priority that receives a lot of attention and demands a lot of staff and council effort is community safety. While I see firsthand the efforts made throughout the community to address one of our city’s most pressing issues, the most recent Crime Severity Index illustrates there is still much work to be done.

I cannot imagine where we would be without the incredible dedication and support we receive from community partners and organizations, businesses and residents who work every day to keep our community safe.

I want you to know I see and hear the frustration and anger when it comes to safety. I read the letters you send to council. I see your comments on social media. And I hear you when you tell me in person you are concerned.

I want you to know as your mayor and neighbour, I wholeheartedly share these concerns. That is why I recently appointed 13 community members to the Mayor’s Task Force on Crime Reduction, which I chair. The inaugural meeting was held in mid-July and I can tell you each task force member has a sincere interest in making a difference in our city and are laser-focused on immediate actions to improve our sense of safety and quality of life in Kelowna.

In addition to the new task force, council has directed a number of initiatives to make an impact on the issues under local control. We are working closely with the RCMP and other partners on meaningful short-term and long-term actions that reduce crime.

In the city’s 2023 Financial Plan, spending on community safety represents 43% of our overall $176.6 million total taxation demand – the largest investment we make among all departments. For 2023, council has approved an ongoing 1% community levy that will hire 13 new community safety staff, including six RCMP officers and four bylaw services staff.

Addressing this complex issue—including the root causes of crime—will take time. I know people are tired of waiting, but we are finally seeing some results. Kelowna’s year-to-date statistics from the RCMP show a promising drop in non-violent property crime:

• Break and enters are down 39%

• Thefts from motor vehicles are down 34%

• Other thefts are down 18%

While progress is being made, I know a lot of work remains to be done to address local crime and safety concerns. That is why it is important to implement new creative ideas to mitigate crime. For example, bike theft is a significant contributor to Kelowna’s high crime rate. That’s why we implemented the city’s new Bike Valet pilot program, and the recent introduction of the Community Safety and Business Safety toolkits, providing meaningful, effective and practical solutions to help address community safety and reduce crime in our city.

The challenges we face are not unique to Kelowna and, sadly, we are seeing an increase in homelessness, open drug use, mental health issues and social disorder throughout our community.?

Since being elected last November, I have met with mayors from across British Columbia and Canada, and I can tell you every community is facing the same challenges.

There are many contributing factors, and we all want to find solutions.??

As the level of government most accessible to residents, council understands and appreciates hearing from residents about local concerns, so we can advocate for solutions from other levels of government with the jurisdiction, resources and responsibility for these issues.

You can help our advocacy efforts by directly sharing your experiences with your federal MPs Tracy Gray [email protected] and Dan Albas, [email protected], our provincial MLAs Renee Merrifield [email protected], Ben Stewart [email protected] and Norm Letnick [email protected] and Interior Health.

You may also want to include Housing Minister Ravi Kahlon at [email protected], Public Safety Minister, Solicitor General and deputy premier Mike Farnworth at [email protected], and Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside at [email protected]. You can also include Interior Health CEO Susan Brown [email protected] to help us advocate for the necessary complex care required to meet the needs of our community.

I want you to know while we are working to make improvements and seeing some results, I know it is not enough and that’s why I promise to work tirelessly to address crime and community safety here in Kelowna.

In the meantime, please be assured council will work hard over the next four years on this priority, and we are open to your suggestions and opinions on local solutions to address our community’s priorities.

We will make Kelowna a safer city by listening to our residents and working together.

You can reach Kelowna council members at here [email protected].

Tom Dyas is the mayor of Kelowna

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