KELOWNA - Crime rates may have declined across the country in 2012 but Kelowna's crime rate has climbed—and now leads the country.
According to a Statistics Canada report released this morning on 2012 police-reported crime, crime in Kelowna was up six per cent from 2011, with a rate of 8,875 crimes per 100,000 population.
But Kelowna officials, including Insp. Nick Romanchuk, new officer in charge of Kelowna detachment, say crime statistics alone don't tell the whole story.
"It's my goal that greater Kelowna is never again mentioned in the Stats Canada report on crime," he told media Thursday morning, adding that in the first six months of 2013 crime has decreased by 15 per cent compared to 2012.
He was joined by city manager Ron Mattiussi for their spin on the report, which they say doesn't take into account the 1.5 million tourists that visit Kelowna each year, which "makes us somewhat of a unique community," Mattiussi said.
Romanchuk says a 13.5 per cent increase in Kelowna's property crime is largely responsible for the 2012 statistics. That includes a 37 per cent increase in thefts from vehicles, a 19 per cent increase in fraud complaints, seven per cent increase in break and enters and a slight increase in vehicle theft.
Drug offences increased three per cent and Romanchuk says that reflects the proactive, hard work of Kelowna police officers.
"It doesn't tell me there's a bigger drug problem in Kelowna than there is anywhere else," he says. Rather than waiting for the phone to ring and reacting to crimes, Romanchuk says officers are using intelligence to target suspected and known criminals.
Mattiussi also noted that Kelowna has seen an influx of police resources, with the RCMP making up 24 per cent of the city's budget.
"If we go out and start targetting certain groups and the rate goes up, is that a good thing or a bad thing?" he says.
"What we do know is that our community doesn't see crime as the highest issue," Mattiussi says, adding that other priorities like transportation are top of mind for the city.
The statistics reflect the greater Kelowna area which comprises Lake Country, Kelowna, West Kelowna and Peachland.
Const. Kris Clark says there were some major investigations in Kelowna last year, including taking down a clandestine lab and the Cycle Logic investigation on the Westside where vehicle identification numbers were changed.
But overall, Clark says personal safety in Kelowna is good.
"We're doing well there, it's not a statistic we're seeing rise," he says. But there's a lot more to work needed to improve safety of property.
"There's certain things that the community can do to protect your property: Lock your car doors, lock your house doors... have somebody look after your property while you're away," he says.
Reducing Kelowna's crime statistics in the years to come will be one of Romanchuk's top priorities in his new role as top cop of the Kelowna detachment. It will be the eighth detachment he's been stationed at in his RCMP career.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Julie Whittet at email@example.com or call (250)718-0428.
— This story was edited at 10:06 a.m. July 25 to include Romanchuk and Mattiussi comments