A community safety review of Penticton, B.C., was recently published and the findings show the city needs more help.
The new ‘Focus on Safety’ review, a $75,000 criminologist report, shows Penticton’s approach to community safety needs an overhaul.
“Were we shocked by the findings of the report? Not really,” said the mayor of Penticton, Julius Bloomfield.
“Most of us knew the stress levels that were on the existing protective services, it is just quantifying whether that was sustainable or not, and according to the report its not. So yes we do need to take action.”
Criminologists looked at local crime statistics, carried out focus groups and talked to fire, police and bylaw members.
According to the report, 79 per cent of the population believes crime has gone up, or gone up a great deal. This aligns with actual statistical increases of crime within the community.
Meanwhile, most people who completed the survey feel unsafe in the community and 62 per cent of women feel unsafe walking alone at night in their own neighbourhood.
“My message to the public is that we understand your frustration, we understand the situation that we’re in,” said Bloomfield.
“We are working diligently on it, we’re doing something about it. We have that data with us now that has just come to, you know, to our desks and our table.”
Looking at the Penticton RCMP detachment, the report states that police are reactive and not proactive or engaging with the community.
While most communities in B.C. are dealing with the same issues, Penticton RCMP continue to have the highest caseload per officer in the province.
“From our perspective on the RCMP is that question is, do we spend more money on more members in the RCMP or do we spend money on services that help the RCMP be better at their job and be more efficient?” added Bloomfield.
“Now we’ve got some answers as to how to deal with that and it may well be it’s just a balance of both. But at least we’ve got some data and some independent thinking as to how we might best tackle the problem.”
The opioid crisis, mental health and homelessness have put added pressure on emergency services.
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While calls to the Penticton fire department have skyrocketed, only one per cent involve a structure fire.
“The recommendations were to increase the membership with focusing on different types of responses for different types of calls. That’s something that we’re having discussions with the fire chief at this time,” said Bloomfield.
“We’ve got to have a plan that satisfies WorkSafe conditions, that satisfies provincial standards, it satisfies the fire department and the membership, but also satisfies the public that there are appropriate responses to different situations.”
The 200-page report was finalized in December and outlines a number of additional concerns and recommendations.
According to Bloomfield, steps will be taken to address the issues quickly.
“Instead of just blindly throwing millions of dollars into the budget to increase those services, the last council felt that it was prudent to have a report done by an outside independent source to study the options and those options came to this council,” said Bloomfield.
“The next step is to take in the input from the public, take that into strategic planning, and ultimately to form a plan as to how we’re going to move forward. Strategic planning is this month so this has got to be done quite quickly.”
Meanwhile, residents were invited to attend a second and final online information session Thursday evening to discuss the report findings.
Copies of the report are available for the public to review at the Penticton Public Library and City Hall or online at ‘Shape your city Penticton.’