Penticton city council will discuss the addition of more RCMP, increased bylaw hours and additional community safety officers during their upcoming 2022 budget deliberations, after a plea from the mayor calling crime in the city a "crisis."
Mayor John Vassilaki put forward a motion to consider three new RCMP officers — on top of two new approved earlier this year, and two others who were built in to the 2021 budget — at a cost of roughly $190,000 per officer.
Vassilaki spoke passionately about the issue, saying community safety has been his priority during his tenure.
"The underlying issues, a level of frustration, continues to grow, and we are now in crisis mode. I understand that there are many levels, to provide a safe community of all citizens for all citizens. I understand there are social issues, mental health issues, addiction issues, and housing issues," Vassilaki said.
"We want to continue to assist in finding solutions for all those who are less fortunate. Our crisis, however, is separating out those in need [from] those who are deliberately abusing the system using the life of crime, for profit, using the tools of fear, and the intimidation, comfortable that their actions have no consequences."
Penticton has one of the highest caseloads per officer in British Columbia. South Okanagan detachment commander Supt. Brian Hunter has told council in the past that the key is targeting prolific offenders through proactive policing, a task which would be made easier with more staff.
Vassilaki also pushed for for four new bylaw officers with extended hours, working 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., at a total cost of $385,000 per year for the new hires, and two community safety officers at $116,832 once grant funding is applied.
"Crime does not stop at five to six o'clock. It continues 24 hours a day," Vassilaki said.
Coun. Katie Robinson shared hesitation about where all the money for these new officers would come from, and whether more bylaw enforcement is the appropriate way to spend it. Robinson had similar concerns when Vassilaki first brought the idea forward in March.
"Over the last year or two, we've doubled and almost tripled our bylaw enforcement officers, and I'm starting to squirm here a little bit because I'm feeling uncomfortable with that," Robinson said.
"We can't put a bylaw officer and ask him to do the RCMP's job, and I've also said that before. It's not fair to put our employees in that kind of danger, and especially if we're talking about extending their hours until 11 o'clock at night. There's problems that come with that. I mean, these are not trained police officers, they hand out parking tickets, and bylaw enforcement and that's a totally different realm ... my concern is that we are trying to use the wrong set of expertise for what we're trying to accomplish."
Ultimately, Vassilaki amended his motion to drop the new bylaw officers, and simply include funds in the 2022 budget discussion for increased hours between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.
Council also voted unanimously to include two new public safety officers in the 2022 budget talks.
The matters will be discussed again during those budget deliberations and potentially modified ahead of adopting the 2022 budget.