Former Kelowna top cop claims city is in opioid crisis

Click to play video 'Kelowna is in a crisis: former top cop' Kelowna is in a crisis: former top cop

Kelowna is in a crisis.

Those are the words of former Kelowna RCMP superintendent Bill McKinnon, who was hired as a consultant by the city to address drug and homelessness problems in the downtown core.

In a video produced by the city, McKinnon talks about how the opioid crisis wasn’t around in his days and how times have changed.

“We didn’t have to deal with the opioid crisis,” said McKinnon. “That has been a real game changer in terms of enforcement, in terms of treatment.”

READ MORE: International Drug Overdose Awareness Day points to harm reduction initiatives in Kelowna

Another game changer, according to McKinnon is the number of homeless. He says it has ballooned since he was in charge.

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“The numbers have doubled for sure, if not tripled to what I saw in 2013 when I left the detachment,” McKinnon said.

He says the courts are no longer treating drug use as a criminal offence.

“Possession of a narcotic, as an example, is still a criminal offence, but the courts are treating it as an illness and so the penalties that are associated with possession of a narcotic as far different in what they were in 2013,” said McKinnon.

WATCH BELOW: Some Kelowna residents are blaming a landlord for the drug activity in their neighbourhood and feel helpless in stopping it. 

Click to play video 'Neighbours pointing fingers at Kelowna landlord for drug problems' Neighbours pointing fingers at Kelowna landlord for drug problems
Neighbours pointing fingers at Kelowna landlord for drug problems

But of all the statements McKinnon makes, the one that sticks out the most is law enforcement is not the solution.

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“You can’t arrest your way out of this,” said McKinnon. “It’s impossible to do that in 2018.”

In his report, McKinnon points out that since September of 2018, calls for service to the RCMP and City increase by more than 1,600 — a four per cent increase over the previous year.

He says the number of homeless has increased to more than 280, not including the more than 300 people who are living in temporary housing.

READ MORE: Drug overdose deaths in Kelowna climb at alarming rate

McKinnon says the so-called Red Zone, put in place to move prolific offenders out of the downtown core, is not working. He says it only moves the problems to other parts of the city, including the Capri area.

In the end, McKinnon says Kelowna has to take the lead in bringing all of the stakeholders together — something he says Kelowna hasn’t done so far.

McKinnon says RCMP resources continue to be a problem. In his report, he says Kelowna has 188 officer positions, but that doesn’t mean there are that many boots on the ground. He says the detachment is 30 officers short because they’re on leave for a variety of reasons. He adds that the city was supposed to hire four more officers, but those positions haven’t been filled. McKinnon says to make up for the shortfall, he would like to see the return of the RCMP’s auxiliary program, suspended a couple of years ago because of safety concerns.

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READ MORE: Metal detector finds little treasure, but plenty of drug paraphernalia in Kelowna park

McKinnon is calling for the end of pairing RCMP officers with by-law officers on bike patrols — noting that bylaw officers have no more authority that a civilian does.

A surprise recommendation is the installation of a permanent safe injection site instead of a mobile site currently in use in the city. It’s a surprise because when McKinnon was Kelowna’s top cop, he was against a safe injection site coming to Kelowna.

His report goes before council next week. Council will make recommendations early in the New Year.