The mayor of Canada’s wine capital is taking a proactive approach to a growing crime problem in the scenic community of Oliver, B.C.
Police continue to investigate the targeted shooting death of 21-year-old Noah Zakall at a Sandpoint Drive property. Neighbours believe the homicide on Saturday was drug-related.
On May 6, RCMP said a loaded gun, brass knuckles, illicit drugs and a “substantial amount of cash” were seized from an Oliver-area home following a report of a domestic assault.
Search warrant documents obtained by Global News confirm Zakall was the subject of that raid after allegedly beating up his girlfriend.
“Noah had picked her up and thrown her on the ground several times and punched her in the head,” police allege in court documents used to obtain the search warrant. The allegations have not been proven in court.
Police officer Mattison Sinnett also noted in the documents that he was familiar with Zakall and the residence due to several police-related calls.
“I have personally dealt with Noah during a multitude of past police-related interactions over the course of my duty as a police officer in Oliver,” he said.
While RCMP recommended “a number of charges” according to a news release, no charges were laid by the Prosecution Service of Canada before Zakall was killed.
“I need the public to see him not just as a drug dealer but as a troubled boy who was lost but had a good heart,” his sister Steff Lambert said in an email to Global News.
“I need help from everyone to catch the person who is held responsible for this tragedy,” she said.
Police have not commented if a suspect has been identified in the fatal shooting.
But that is not the only recent gun violence plaguing the small South Okanagan town.
On Monday, police said a man was shot during a dispute at a home in the 5500 block of Yarrow Street.
The 43-year-old Oliver man suffered non-life-threatening injuries and a 62-year-old man was charged with firearms offences.
On June 2, three men were arrested after shots were fired near a home on Pine Ridge Drive.
Two assault-style semi-automatic weapons, meth and cocaine were seized, police said.
David James O’Brien, 43, is facing firearms and drug-related charges.
Martin Johansen, mayor of Oliver, said he’s very concerned about the rash of gunplay.
“It’s a huge concern for the community, people are already anxious with COVID-19 and now we’ve got shootings,” he said.
Johansen said the municipality is trying to reduce the workload for local Mounties so they can focus on fighting crime.
Those efforts include cleaning up nuisance properties, proactive bylaw enforcement and increased funding for victims’ services.
Johansen said the South Okanagan-Similkameen RCMP detachment requested funding for two additional police officers at the Oliver detachment to respond to an increase in calls related to the Okanagan Correctional Centre, but the application was denied.
Oliver did receive a new cadet in January who completed his field training and is fully operational, bringing the total complement of police officers to 10.
“It would always be nice to have additional police officers, we have talked to the province about that at length, right now we are not getting any, so what we need to do in the meantime is to find ways to be more efficient,” Johansen said.
Some residents who spoke to Global News said there needs to be more boots on the ground.
“I think that we don’t have the RCMP support here. I believe that they are understaffed,” said Oliver resident Gale Kleckner.
Michael Guthrie, who sits on the town’s public safety committee, suggested surveillance cameras should be installed in known crime-ridden areas.
“There is a big human cry in the community for community-based video cameras,” he said.
But Johansen says the root of the problem is that more supports are needed for mental health and addictions.
“It is quite clear we are not going to arrest our way out of this problem.”