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Improving public safety in Kelowna could cost big bucks

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November 23, 2018 - 8:00 PM

KELOWNA - City Council hasn’t formally discussed its new Public Safety Report yet, but it could cost a lot of money.

The report, by former Kelowna RCMP Supt. Bill McKinnon, was released yesterday (Nov. 22, 2018) within the agenda package for Monday’s council meeting (starting on page 14).

“The formal mandate of my research and recommendations is to address public safety concerns related to the impacts of homelessness, mental illness, addictions and criminal behavior in the City of Kelowna,” McKinnon states in his report.

Staff has recommended that council accept the report and refer it to the city's Acting Community Safety Director with instructions that he report back in early 2019 with an implementation plan. The City is under no obligation to act on the report, and could implement some, all or none of it. 

While McKinnon included no actual dollar figures for the recommendations — that will likely come from the acting safety director in a later report — few items come cheap.

It contains 26 recommendations that can be lumped into three basic categories: coordination, enforcement and health/support services, with enforcement containing 11 of the 26 recommendations.

“The one thing I know for sure: we can’t arrest our way out of this crisis,” McKinnon states. “Enforcement plays an important role in dealing with the issues our community now faces, but this is only one part of the equation. Enforcement only deals with the symptoms and not the causes. The Journey Home strategy is correct: housing and treatment are the key to long-term success.”

Policing is where the big cost could come as one of his recommendations is to continue to increase RCMP staffing levels as needed by a growing city.

One RCMP officer costs the city $168,742 per year (based on figures in the 2018 provisional budget).

McKinnon doesn’t give any suggestions as to how many officers are needed but did point out that, at the end of last summer, the 188-member detachment was short 30 members. That was due to the fact that the four new officers budget for this year had not yet been hired and others were off on temporary leave due to things like illness, parental leave or suspensions.

He also suggests that city Bylaw officers (which cost the city $103,300 per year according to the budget document) be retrained to gain Special Provincial Constable status. This is a replacement for the Auxiliary Police program that ran from 1963 to 2016 when it was cancelled due to safety concerns.

He noted, in his report, that Bylaw officers “have no more authority than a common citizen under Section 494 of the Criminal Code.

In 2010, there were 65 volunteers working 11,000 hours a year, he reported.

The new system calls for three tiers of training.

McKinnon did not specify how many bylaw officers should be upgraded, the cost of training or whether the changed status would trigger a wage increase.

He also called for a full-time Security Manager to oversee all the private security in the city. Kelowna now spends about $3 million on private security, including $1.6 million at the airport.

Managers on the city’s payroll earn about $100,000 per year, plus benefits.

McKinnon did not comment on whether the dedicated private security patrols on Leon Avenue and the Gordon/Springfield area – which cost $100,000 for part of this year – should be continued or expanded.

Five of his recommendations relate to the creation of a multi-agency committee to coordinate efforts to cut down on crime, which may not have any big cost implications Another suggesiton is to create a HUB  model that would have police and social agencies meet twice weekly to try to find help for people withoiut sending them to the hospital or jail. He wrote that can be done with existing resources.

Ten others look at health/support issues that include the installation of water fountains and Porta Potties (which are much cheaper than the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on some washrooms in city beachfront parks).

Other costs, for things like a permanent safe drug injection site, more street nurses and a community court will have cost implications for the provincial government.

Here are his recommendations, in three broad categories:


1. That the City of Kelowna lead a committee involving stakeholders (Interior Health, RCMP, City Policy & Planning, Bylaws, BC Housing, URBA, DKA, Chamber of Commerce) to work collaboratively to come up with actions to deal with the social impact of the opioid and homelessness crisis.

2. The Committee build criteria for the location of shelters and supportive housing in the city.

3. B.C. Housing, Interior Health, the RCMP and the City of Kelowna share relevant data so that decision makers from all agencies and levels of government can make informed and accurate decisions on social impacts related to opioid and homelessness issues.

4. The City develop performance measures to gauge our progress in reducing the impact of social issues and perceptions of public safety. This will also allow the City to make adjustments if the measurements demonstrate we are not moving in the right direction.

5. The City, working with the committee, identify and address public information gaps.


1. That the City of Kelowna lobby the Federal Government and RCMP to fill all vacant positions and develop a resourcing strategy to promptly fill temporary vacancies for members.

2. Add additional members on an ongoing basis to meet the needs to this growing community and deal with the increased calls for service.

3. The RCMP should present to Council a report outlining an operational plan for policing of the downtown and city parks next summer by April 2019.

4. The City of Kelowna ask the Provincial Government, Ministry of Public Safety, the Solicitor General and the Commanding Officer of “E” division to reinstate the RCMP Auxiliary Program and to have the volunteers trained prior to May 2019 so that they can be in service for next summer.

5. That the Kelowna RCMP Detachment implement the HUB model and engage with key partners in its development: Interior Health, City of Kelowna, Ministry of Children & Family Development, Westbank First Nation, School District 23, Downtown Kelowna Association, Prosecution Service of BC, BC Probation Services, BC Corrections and BC Housing.

6. Apply for grant funding through the Province.

7. That City Council dedicate additional RCMP officers (requested in an earlier recommendation above) to further enhance the PACT teams.

8. That City Council lobby Interior Health to provide matching nurse resources.

9. Bike Patrols: two options presented:

Option 1; The RCMP form a dedicated bike patrol consisting of four members working May 1 – October 15 each year and an additional four officers during July 1 – September 1. If, for any reason, a member is absent for duty, an Auxiliary Constable (tier 3) or another RCP member would fill the void.

Option 2: Explore the viability of enhancing Bylaw officers’ authorities in a tiered policing approach (Special Provincial Constable status) and which would give Bylaw Officers Peace Officer status. This would give them the ability and authority to enforce provincial and criminal behaviours. The upgrade would require significant training for Bylaw Officers and increased liability for the City of Kelowna. Bylaw officers could then partner with RCMP on a combined Bike patrol or form their own bike squad to patrol the parks and downtown Kelowna.

10. That the City of Kelowna hire a full time Security Manager to oversee private security needs for the community as well as the organization.

11. That a Community Court be re-instated in Kelowna, and that the City of Kelowna lobby local MLA’s and the Ministry of Justice to support and provide the appropriate provincial resources for a Community Court in Kelowna as soon as possible.


1. That the City of Kelowna continue to lobby both the federal and provincial governments for new and additional funding for substance use treatment within our community.

2. That the City work, through the committee, with Interior Health to find a location for a permanent safe consumption site. This would allow services from the mobile unit to be maximized as a secondary location.

3. That City Council and appropriate city staff further build their understanding and awareness of Mental Health and Addictions best practices and continue to support those in our community struggling with these medical issues through the use of non-stigmatizing language.

4. Low barrier shelters should be strategically located in the City of Kelowna: close to services but separated from other shelters. Through the proposed committee, the City of Kelowna needs to engage with BC Housing, Interior Health, RCMP, Bylaw Services, Chamber of Commerce and the community to identify appropriate locations for emergency shelters in the city. Ultimately, the location of supportive housing and shelters need to be part of the long-term planning process in collaboration with all stakeholders.

5. The City of Kelowna needs to have additional public washrooms in high traffic areas, that are accessible year-round, in other areas of the downtown core. Possible examples include the Portland Loo and the Winnipeg pop-up public toilet.

6. The City of Kelowna explore supplying transportation options to people experiencing homelessness in order to provide the means to deal with normal necessities of life.

7. The City of Kelowna explore the installation of drinking water fountains in additional areas of downtown Kelowna.

8. City to support and contribute to the development of the Peer Empowerment and Employment program.

9. Through the HUB table, at risk individuals interacting with businesses and community, would be supported through connection with trained peer support workers.

10. Support and contribute to Journey Home Society’s work in developing peer employment opportunities including developing social enterprises to contribute to: addressing stigma, community beautification (including sharps clean-up); and public facility attendance (i.e. downtown public washroom/shower facilities).

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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