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Crime heading back up in South Okanagan post-COVID

August 21, 2021 - 6:10 PM

There are large discrepancies between crime rates in the South Okanagan between April and June this year compared to the same period in 2020 when COVID restrictions were in full effect.

In Penticton, shoplifting numbers “skyrocketed,” Penticton RCMP Supt. Brian Hunter told the directors of the Regional District of Similkameen Okanagan in a quarterly RCMP update on Aug. 19.

Reports of shoplifting rose by 71 per cent to 96 from 56. Hunter suspects the increase is due to more stores being open this year, as well as fewer travel restrictions. But despite last quarter’s higher numbers, they were still lower than the 123 reports of shoplifting during the same period in 2019.

The most frequently stolen item from Penticton was food, which accounted for 23 per cent of all reports. Hunter said 32 per cent of this year’s shoplifting reports came from a single grocer on Main Street.

Reports of uttering threats in Penticton were up to 84 last quarter from 56 reports in 2020 and 63 in 2019.

With 474 reports, mischief was up by 32 per cent in that quarter of 2020, but this year’s number is closer to the 442 reports in 2019.

Among those mischief files, 43 were related to social disorder issues.

“Which include unwanted people, open drug use, mental health issues, homelessness, that type of thing,” Hunter said.

READ MORE: Penticton RCMP defend poor rating in Macleans' crime statistics

Regarding the murder of 57-year-old Kathleen Richardson in Naramata, Hunter said no charges have been laid yet.

Her death “shook the entire community, shook the detachment,” he said.

“It was an all-hands-on-deck situation for the entire detachment to work with our major crime partners out of Vancouver headquarters and the Southeast District Major Crime Unit…. Definitely a challenge for the community and detachment.”

Summerland RCMP detachment commander Sgt. Dave Preston pointed out how a 25 per cent increase in motor vehicle thefts this year seems significant, but when compared to 2019, there has only been a 10 per cent increase.

“Still an increase but obviously not as significant,’ he said.

Theft from motor vehicles were up 71 per cent in Summerland from 14 to 24. Among those 24 reports during this year’s quarter, at least 50 per cent of the vehicles were unlocked, though Preston suspects the number of unlocked vehicles is higher.

“That’s probably an underestimate in terms of how many vehicles were insecure. When they call in, some people don’t want to say their vehicle was unlocked, they find it embarrassing.”

When asked if crimes in Summerland are happening within specific areas, Preston said some homes required “a lot” of the RCMP’s attention and resources.

“I don’t have the numbers in front of me but there are a lot of calls for service at a few specific residences that we’re trying to tackle. Whether they’re known to us, some of them yes, some of them no.”

READ MORE: Masked man holds up Princeton gas station at gun point

In Princeton, detachment commander Sgt. Robert Hughes said the latest quarterly report may appear to show improvements, but warned against “revelling in the glory of the really good numbers.”

“There’s a whole bunch of green there which looks fantastic, however there were a whole bunch of low numbers before mentioned last time we were here,” he said.

Hughes said the Princeton detachment launched a prolific offender program earlier this year, and the one offender they have on that program is in jail.

Among the vehicle thefts in Princeton, he said a smaller number of stolen automobiles have been found in the Okanagan and northern B.C., but most are mostly turning up in Chilliwack and Abbotsford.

“So it’s indicating to us that it’s transient people coming through,” Hughes said.

“One (vehicle theft) was a person who went out drinking, left their vehicle on the side of the road with their keys on the floor mat and the vehicle mysteriously disappeared when he returned,” he said, adding that the vehicle was later recovered in a ditch.

On behalf of the Oliver detachment, Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth said there were more decreases in local crime over the same period last year, but thefts were up 83 per cent from 12 to 22. However, there were 30 reports of theft in Oliver in 2019. 

Among last quarter’s 22 reports of theft, 12 happened at properties where goods were left out unsecured, leading Wigglesworth to believe many of those could have been the same person.

Members of the Oliver detachment receive more email complaints about speeding than anything else, so officers wrote up 174 speeding tickets last quarter.

READ MORE: South Okanagan rural crime stats reflect pandemic effect with increase in violent crime

In Osoyoos, calls for service were down 12 per cent last quarter.

“No confident reason why calls for service are down but I do believe it’s due to the lower volume of transient workers we’ve had come into our town,” Sgt. Jason Bayda said.

Vineyards and orchard have been struggling to attract workers this summer because of COVID.

Among those seasonal workers, “there’s a number unfortunately that don’t respect laws,” which leads to an increased rate shoplifting during a normal summer, he said.

“So certainly seeing a downward trend in that this year.”

Bayda is “pleased” to see violent crime is down 27 per cent year-to-date and 43 per cent last quarter.

“Not a whole lot to speak about violent crime other than it’s good right now.”

A comparison of crime stats in Penticton between the second quarter of 2020 and the same period in 2021
A comparison of crime stats in Penticton between the second quarter of 2020 and the same period in 2021
Image Credit: RCMP

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