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Hammer attack on elderly Penticton business owner prompts renewed calls for more police officers

Click to play video: 'Hammer attack on elderly Penticton business owner prompts renewed calls for more police officers'
Hammer attack on elderly Penticton business owner prompts renewed calls for more police officers
A hammer attack on an elderly Penticton, B.C., business owner in a violent armed robbery is prompting renewed calls for increased public safety measures in the downtown core. As Shelby Thom reports, city council recently rejected a proposal from the mayor to fund the hiring of five more police officers, while the city’s top Mountie said the detachment is severely under-resourced and over-worked – Aug 5, 2021

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

“It was a cowardly action by those two individuals that beat on this elderly [person]. It is unfortunate and it is unacceptable,” said Penticton mayor John Vassilaki.
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“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.

Click to play video: '‘Egregious’ crime rate causing stress, burn out'
‘Egregious’ crime rate causing stress, burn out

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.

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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.

Read more: Okanagan man describes savage assault, wants attacker charged

“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.

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‘I am tough on crime’: New top cop at helm of Penticton RCMP detachment

“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.”

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Hunter said it’s difficult to peg exactly how many more police officers Penticton needs to meet the demand.

“Calculating exactly how many police officers is a challenging question to answer and the reason is, if we just wanted to go the provincial average of caseloads, we would need 50-60 more police officers here, and that is unreasonable, we don’t need that many. What we need is to have a significant increase in our strength here — I would suggest five to ten [more officers],” he said.

Read more: 10 bus stops smashed in Penticton in overnight spree, RCMP says

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.

Click to play video: 'Penticton assault victim speaks out'
Penticton assault victim speaks out

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.

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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.

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What the Catholic church destroyed by fire meant to Penticton Indian Band

“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.”

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Meanwhile, Brown is recovering from her injuries and reopened her ice cream shop on Thursday. No arrests have been made.

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