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Penticton's top cop faces tough questions from new city council

Penticton RCMP detachment commander Supt. Ted De Jager poses for this photo taken on July 19, 2018.
December 18, 2018 - 3:46 PM

PENTICTON - Penticton’s RCMP superintendent was put on the hot seat during today’s council meeting as the newly elected politicians had a chance to question him for the first time since the municipal election.

Council spent more than an hour listening to Supt. Ted De Jager's report before asked some pointed questions, challenging his view of the city and its downtown core as safe from violent crime.

Following De Jager's review of year-to-year statistics, Coun. Katie Robinson asked what criteria he was using as a basis for his comments about the city being safe.

“I keep hearing, both from you and the media, this is still a very safe town. My question to you is, what are you basing that on? Because as someone who has lived here for 30 years, I can tell you it’s not as safe as it used to be by a long stretch,” Robinson said, adding there was a strong perception in the town it’s getting worse, not better.

Robinson also noted a recent MacLean’s magazine article that listed Penticton as having a high crime severity index ranking, telling the superintendent she was left “confused” after hearing the officer’s comments to the contrary.

“From whose view are we looking at this? I can tell you from just being through an election there are a lot of people in this town with grave concerns about their safety now,” she said. "What are you basing that comment on, that it’s still a safe town?”

De Jager derided the MacLean’s article, claiming the listing of small cities in the top ten while communities over one million were literally “having gunfights on the street” was not an effective comparison.

“Crime is not proportional to population, it never has been, so to say five percent of Penticton’s population are criminals, for example, then to say five per cent of Toronto’s population are criminal, pushing that into the 100,000 level, is simply not true. It doesn’t work proportionally. It will never be a fair comparison,” he said.

De Jager said it was his responsibility to look at crime issues in the community, and those issues in Penticton largely surrounded property crime. With Penticton’s violent crime rate sitting at around two per cent, and many of those crimes involving repeat offenders dealing with each other, the notion of being exposed to a random violent crime had little basis in reality in Penticton, he said.

“I’m not naive. Yes, we will have robberies, and yes, occasionally there will be something that appears very frightening to someone... I have to emphasize I’m not saying that violent crime does not occur in this community, and I’m not saying people aren’t fearful in certain cases," he said. "What I’m trying to impress upon the community is the safety of the community by looking out for each other, to come downtown. It’s that kind of vibrancy that drives the darkness away from the places we want people to be."

Mayor John Vassilaki said his personal policy since becoming mayor was to talk to downtown residents and those on neighbouring streets where he was receiving most of the complaints about crime.

“I can assure you, sir, people are terrified in the downtown area and surrounding residential area as well,” Vassilaki said.

The mayor said the biggest complaint he was hearing from business owners, business employees and residents was, in spite of a city budget of $9.3 million for policing costs, the RCMP are not visible.

"There’s no visibility of police, anywhere. The people, in order to feel safe, they have to know the police are there to protect in case of need, and they don’t seem to be able to see that visibility anywhere. What they are really asking for is boots on the ground,” he said, adding the superintendent would be hearing more from council as budget talks got underway.

Vassilaki asked De Jager to explain how in the future his officers would be more visible throughout the city.

De Jager said he didn’t normally hesitate to speak publicly about police presence most of the time, but said a certain amount of the discussion initially needed to be behind closed doors.

“It’s a resourcing issue. I’m not saying we need 20 more police officers, but it’s what the expectations are. Those are discussions we should have, in terms of having boots on the ground,” he said.

De Jager said he was initially committed to addressing property crime and had taken successful steps in remedying those crimes through creation of the Targeted Enforcement Unit. He said in terms of creating a downtown presence, a five-member Community Enforcement Team, which amounted to 20 per cent of the detachment, had been created and was active in the downtown core most of the time.

He also noted officers devoted more than 500 hours to downtown foot patrols last summer.

"We start to get into questions of resourcing, if we need to have that kind of visibility,” he said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 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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