A hammer attack on an elderly Penticton, B.C., business owner in a violent armed robbery Wednesday morning is prompting renewed calls for increased public safety measures in the downtown core.
Sharon Brown, 70, was struck with a hammer by two masked intruders who barged into Ogo’s Ice Cream on Main Street at approximately 6:30 a.m. while Brown was prepping food.
“I have eleven stitches here where he hit me with the hammer,” Brown told Global News of her injuries. She said the suspects took off with the cash register.
The assault sent shock waves through the small South Okanagan community.
Read more: Overburdened, under-resourced: Penticton Mounties overwhelmed by call volumes, top cop says
“All of us at the detachment are very upset,” added Supt. Brian Hunter, the officer in charge of the South Okanagan-Similkameen regional detachment.
“It’s an absolutely disgusting crime that happened in our community. No one deserves any amount of force applied to them. No one deserves to have their lifelong dreams of having a business and things stolen from them,” Hunter said.
Some downtown business owners and area residents are calling on the City of Penticton to hire more RCMP officers and boost police and bylaw patrols.
“Certainly at this end of town there is a certain element — we see it all the time — and it would be nice if we had more foot patrols,” Brown said.
Last week, Penticton city council rejected mayor Vassilaki’s proposal to request five more RCMP officers because of the cost.
Instead, city council agreed to fund two additional police officers and hire a consultant to review how public safety can be improved in Penticton.
“It was very disappointing, but we live in a democratic society and politicians all think differently,” Vassilaki said of council’s decision.
“I’d like politicians to think more of the people rather than financing.”
Hunter said his officers are stressed, overworked and under-resourced due to high call volumes.
“Penticton detachment members are severely overworked,” he said.
“They are overburdened with the calls for service here, we have the highest caseload of any B.C. RCMP municipality policing a population of over 15,000, we are 2.5 times the provincial caseload average.”
Hunter said it’s difficult to peg exactly how many more police officers Penticton needs to meet the demand.
The city’s top Mountie said he sympathizes with the community, but said the detachment is doing the best it can to respond to all calls for service.
“It’s stressful to be working out there, calls for service are ramping up in the queue, the members can’t get to them, our community members are getting upset, and we don’t blame them,” Hunter said.
According to the latest crime severity index released by Statistics Canada, the City of Penticton also has the dubious distinction of being the most dangerous city in the Okanagan.
Figures for 2020 show Penticton’s crimes severity index is at 180, nearly double the provincial average. Kelowna’s index is 129.
“The big driver in Penticton is our very high property crime rate,” Hunter said.
Read more: Kelowna climbs to 3rd on national crime severity index list, but police say context needed
“We have a crime rate that is one of the highest in the province. We have a large population in this community that are suffering from addictions and mental health issues, and not all of them are committing crime, most of them aren’t, but some of them are in that cycle of having to commit crimes to feed their addictions.”
Vassilaki said more needs to be done to reduce the crime rate and boost police resources.
“I have lived here going on to 64 years and I’ve never seen it as bad as it is now,” the mayor said of the city’s crime problem. “We are fourteenth on the list out of 325 municipalities in Canada and it mostly has to do with property crime.”
Meanwhile, Brown is recovering from her injuries and reopened her ice cream shop on Thursday. No arrests have been made.
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