Seven Kelowna council candidates who say downtown crime is an enforcement problem

A Kelowna RCMP officer and a Kelowna bylaw officer on patrol in downtown Kelowna.

KELOWNA - Personal safety, especially in downtown Kelowna, has proven to be one of the go-to issues for candidates to show where they are at on crime.

As part of our 2018 municipal election coverage, iNFOnews.ca sent out a questionnaire to all candidates in Kelowna who provided an email address.

We asked: Street crime, homelessness issues and discarded needles have become a major issue in the past few years, particularly downtown. Is this primarily an enforcement issue? If yes, should the City of Kelowna increase its budget to pay for more private security/bylaw officers/RCMP officers to deal with this?

Not surprisingly, some candidates gave thumbs up to more boots on the street, many were more ambiguous and at least one was downright opposed. Their selected answers covered the entire spectrum and often overlap.

Please note the entire text of each candidate answer is provided at the bottom of the page. Not every candidate responded to the survey.

Ryan Donn
Ryan Donn
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Facebook

CANDIDATES WHO SAID YES, THIS IS ABOUT ENFORCEMENT

Wayne Carson: Yes, this is an enforcement issue and the most effective control would be existing bylaw officers.

Ryan Donn: Hire more RCMP funded through the current annual RCMP operating surplus.

Gail Given: In the future it will be important that additional investment in protective services occurs as our population growth dictates.

Charlie Hodge: In general I favour funding for RCMP rather than more bylaw officers.

Craig Hostland: Clearly what is being done is not enough, so resources have to be reviewed and reallocated.

Graeme James: Yes, I do believe certain elements of this problem is an enforcement issue but I believe that a more strategic deployment of current personnel is preferable to adding more to this budget line.

Brad Sieben: Hiring of security, RCMP and Bylaws are needed to improve the sense of safety in the short term until more supportive housing beds and treatment programs are available.

Dustin Sargent
Dustin Sargent
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Facebook

CANDIDATES WHO SAY IT'S NOT PRIMARILY ABOUT ENFORCEMENT

Colin Basran (for Mayor): Enforcement cannot stop drug addiction, mental health crisis or end homelessness. Street crime can be mitigated with enforcement, but it takes additional strategies.

Tom Dyas (for Mayor): I have spent many hours talking with RCMP, Bylaw and Downtown Kelowna Security staff. They have stated that the present plan is clearly not working.

Gordon Lovegrove: Researchers suggest that while mental illness, addiction, and homelessness have generally been associated with crime, it is not primarily an enforcement issue.

Dustin Sargent: I don’t necessarily think there needs to be an increase in enforcement budget but I certainly wouldn’t want to see a decrease.

Mohini Singh: Enforcement alone is not the answer. Increasing policing strategies is one answer, but we also need to continue to advocate for more supportive wrap around services for our homeless population.

Luke Stack: Increased enforcement alone will not improve the situation significantly.

Loyal Wooldridge: Crime, safety and homelessness will not be solved with enforcement alone, we’ve heard this directly from the RCMP.

NOT FOR HIM AT ALL...

Mo Rajabally: I get angry when I read council has added x number of police officers at the request of the police detachment. It is not primarily an enforcement issue...It is an embarrassing lack of adequate mental health (care).

These candidates did not respond:
Lindsay Bell
Kevin Bond
Mark Boyer
Greg Dahms
Maxine DeHart
Bobby Kennedy
Amarjit Singh Lalli
Jeff Piattelli
Bob Schewe

FULL RESPONSES TO THE QUESTION: Street crime, homelessness issues and discarded needles have become a major issue in the past few years, particularly downtown. Is this primarily an enforcement issue? If yes, should the City of Kelowna increase its budget to pay for more private security/bylaw officers/RCMP officers to deal with this?

Colin Basran: These societal issues cannot be solved by one person or City Council in isolation. They’ve been growing for decades and take a commitment from everyone to bring about change. We must remove from our streets those who prey on our most vulnerable residents and hurt our community.

We've tackled these issues head-on hiring former RCMP Superintendent Bill McKinnon to work on a strategy to increase safety downtown and across Kelowna. His report will be released in November. A measure that’s already been implemented with this work is a needle pickup program. If anyone finds one, they can call 250-469-8801.

We also continue to work with IHA on improving the retrieval and disposal of the needles they distribute. Our City Parks staff and contractors do the best they can to check parks and beaches for needles daily.

It is important residents understand these challenges are not just an enforcement issue.  Enforcement cannot stop drug addiction, mental health crisis or end homelessness. Street crime can be mitigated with enforcement, but it takes additional strategies - that's why we retained Bill McKinnon and launched The Journey Home Strategy.

We have a dedicated team of Bylaw, RCMP, first responder, and outreach workers. Since my election, we have increased our human power adding 16 RCMP officers, 7 Bylaw Officers, 12 firefighters and 15 first-responder support positions. We’ve launched a ground-breaking Police & Crisis Team for suspected mental health calls and increased foot and bicycle patrols by RCMP and Bylaw officers. We’ve added innovative measures like the Commercial Theft Project and run crime prevention campaigns – because most theft is a crime of opportunity. When we have additional needs, we’ll increase enforcement and but also build on our repertoire of tactics based on what works. We’ll do this strategically to face each issue directly.

Wayne Carson: Yes this is an enforcement issue and the most effective control would be existing city by-law officers as they will be more cost effective and responsive to city hall direction.

Ryan Donn: I think its fair to say that everyone is concerned about any level of crime in our community. Interestingly crimes rates against people have dropped about 12% in the last three years while property crime such as bike/car theft has gone up about 20%. I personally feel that illegal drug activity and addiction are playing a substantial role in the property crime issue. If re-elected I’d advocate for seven action items .

  • Hire more RCMP funded through the current annual RCMP operating surplus. Doubling the PACT team that pairs a nurse with an RCMP officer. We need to focus on a  “foot patrol” model of service in Kelowna. Constable Woody in Kelowna offers a great example of how this can be done.
  • Advocate for more drug rehab programs so we are reducing the root cause. We have an embarrassingly low availability of drug rehab programs in the Central Okanagan.
  • We need to do more to educate our community that leaving our cars or houses unlocked is no longer the best option.
  • I will also continue to advocate for West Kelowna counterparts to hire more RCMP. Currently Kelowna has roughly 1 RCMP for every 700 citizens while West Kelowna has 1 RCMP for every 1400.
  • As we see areas negatively effected by crime we need to not only focus on enforcement but also focus on positively animating our public spaces. Did you know that Parks Alive! started as a way to increase the positive animation of our parks?
  • There has also been some work done recently looking at the option of adding a community court  in Kelowna for those who plead guilty to crimes. I think this is a step in the right direction and hope to see it happen in the next year or two.
  • We have a graffiti team in the City of Kelowna. I believe that we need to create a similar needles team in the city of Kelowna.

Tom Dyas: This is an issue that like many in our community, is very close to my heart and of a high priority.  Over the past 1 1/2 years I have volunteered as the Kelowna Chamber of Commerce representative working with City of Kelowna and community partners in developing the Journey Home Take Force. This is an excellent long-term plan to address many of the issues around homelessness, drug addiction and mental health.  However, it does not deal with the issues that are taking place on our street today. I have spent many hours talking with RCMP, Bylaw and Downtown Kelowna Security staff. 

They have worked tirelessly in trying to help maintain some order on the street.  They have stated that the present plan is clearly not working. You have about 1/3 of the street people suffering from mental health, 1/3 dealing with drug addictions issues and other 1/3 of people taking advantage of the other 2/3rds. 

You can’t put 80 people in one building on Leon, basically have free reign 24 hours a day, use drugs and have no rules.  I support a balanced 4 Pillar approach which includes harm reduction, enforcement, education and treatment. Increased enforcement alone will not solve the problem. 

The federal government just announced an additional $71.7 Million for BC to address the issue of substance abuse. My campaign team and I will continue to support Bridges Youth and Family, CMHA, John Howard Society and other dedicated service organizations in lobbying senior levels of government to securing the much-needed funds for detox, drug and mental health treatment.  

Making sure Interior Health Authority has the Human Resources to provide the necessary treatment to the people in their home or where-ever help is needed.  We need to provide healing and hope for our children, youth and adults in our community.

Gail Given: The issues of street crime, homelessness and discarded needles and are all very different issues.  While sometimes they may be related to each other they all need distinctly different and complex solutions, none of which can be improved solely by enforcement.  For certain, poverty and homelessness are not a crime.  From a housing perspective, Council must continue to nurture its positive relationship with BC Housing to insure sufficient subsidised housing units are delivered.  Journey Home strategy identifies the need for 300 units as well 500 support beds.  In addition, the focus on purpose-built rentals must continue as we strive to reach a healthier vacancy rate (somewhere in the neighbourhood of 3%).  As far as increasing enforcement officers it should be noted that over the past Council term significant additional investment has occurred.  The following have been added:  16 RCMP officers, 7 Bylaw officers plus 15 Police Services and Bylaw support staff.  In the future it will be important that additional investment in protective services occurs as our population growth dictates.  This investment must always be balanced with the other needs of our community and within an acceptable tax increase tolerance.

Charlie Hodge: It is much more complex than a simple yes answer. There are four clear components impacting our streets: Truly homeless, mental health, addicted, and the criminal element. We need to clearly delineate between them and deal with each.

Homeless. Of the four issues Council has its greatest influence and impact with the homeless. We've done a good job of improving support for the homeless with more homes and assistance coming on stream. The Journey Home program and Council's work with various levels of supportive housing and programs is a positive step. The next two or three years should prove impactful in this category.

Mental Health. Jurisdiction resides mainly with the Federal and Provincial governments who need to re-open and fund housing and support facilities now!
Addiction. There is a pathetic short fall in effective rehabilitation facilities in B.C.. The Province need to help municipalities with funding. We have lost Crossroads and other effective programs where those with issues can receive proper help. Courts have nowhere to send the addict that will help.

Crime. Some 25% of our Kelowna budget is spent on RCMP however we have no say in how that funding is spent in deployment of officers or their priorities. We have good communication with the RCMP but do not run their day to day activity. Council can apply more pressure on the courts and governments to free up more court space and funds so that the criminal is not back on the street hours after being arrested, or not arrested at all.

In general I favour funding for RCMP rather than more bylaw officers. I believe the eventual elimination of the Red and Orange zones may reduce crime in residential neighbourhoods. For the criminal element, Kelowna should no longer be open for business.

Craig Hostland: Safety in our community is a top priority. The change I’ve see over the past few years includes an increase in vagrancy, petty theft and break-ins, and civil disobedience, among others. Clearly what is being done is not enough, so resources have to be reviewed and reallocated. I feel that a round table discussion at Council will help refocus our efforts towards addressing this problem. The problem will not go away, so we must figure out a way to minimize its impact and reduce its growth. This is a team approach I am eager to be involved in where cost effective strategies are possible. We will incorporate other Cities’ successes and find ways to mimic their methods.

Is the problem the catch and release program that allows perpetrators to be released based on voluntary reporting to court several months later? The legal environment must first of all be stricter. There must be real and immediate consequences for illegal behaviour. Otherwise, Kelowna, one of the most weather friendly Cities in Canada is a magnet. Homelessness and rampant street drug use is a much deeper problem that requires a collaboration of metal health providers and transition programs, in concert with City police, City officials, and volunteers. The first ever Third Space fund raiser I was at with my wife this past week was a real eye opener as to the extent of human issues and how volunteers are making a positive difference. Time and effort in care and attention is more valuable that enforcement and with the volunteer groups now present, budget adjustments may not be necessary.

Let’s put an open public face to this epidemic with the help of community professionals and volunteers, police, academics, residents, and businesses – to tackle this complex problem with each of us doing our part.

Graeme James: Yes, I do believe certain elements of this problem is an enforcement issue but I believe that a more strategic deployment of current personnel is preferable to adding more to this budget line. I would advocate for having RCMP officers identify and interact with high-rate offenders and concentrating more resources in high-crime areas. However, if circumstances call for more RCMP then I would certainly be open to that as well. Putting bylaw officers or security officers into these enforcement positions is not a viable solution because they don’t have the training to deal with these issues. I also don’t believe homelessness is a crime and it shouldn’t be lumped in with a question on crime.

Gordon Lovegrove: Researchers suggest that while mental illness, addiction, and homelessness have generally been associated with crime, it is NOT primarily an enforcement issue.  Homelessness can occur for a myriad of reasons – sudden job loss, family break-up, and other traumatic factors.  Moreover, loss of hope and sense of community (loss of socialization) have been associated with mental illness and addiction.  UBC Criminologists have developed community design methods that I teach to my engineering students to reduce crime, called “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” (CPTED), with three parts: 1) Perpetrator 2) Victim, and 3) Place it occurs. 

First, deterring the perpetrator happens thru patrols and enforcement  We have volunteer community patrols to help – and more volunteers are needed to extend hours later into the night, especially at 2 am when pubs get out.  Meanwhile, lets keep our RCMP levels tracking with Kelowna’s population growth.
Second, minimize the chances of being a victim: take self defence courses; stay out of dark alleys; don’t leave items on your car seat.  I would push for low-cost, family-friendly self defence programs at community centers.
Third, the environment – how we design our communities – is the most controllable aspect.  Light up that dark alley!  Put more solar-powered LED lights in City Park.  Attract more ‘eyes on the street’ thru more events in City Park and buskers.  Many long-time residents want to bring back the Kelowna Aquatic Center so we can take back our Park and attract more tourists.

Lets use our trusted voices – volunteers, police, academics, residents – to look at the whole system to develop crime reduction strategies.  With community collaboration and partnerships – each of us doing our respective part – we can reduce crime signficantly.

Mo Rajabally: Street crime, homelessness issues and discarded needles have become a major issue in the past few years, particularly downtown. Is this primarily an enforcement issue? If yes, should the City of Kelowna increase its budget to pay for more private security/bylaw officers/RCMP officers to deal with this?

It is not primarily an enforcement issue. It is not. It is an embarrassing lack of adequate mental health. I have worked in psychiatric hospitals in England, Switzerland, USA, and for sure Canada.
I have seen thousands of patients, In Kelowna, I was a Nursing professor teaching Psychiatric Nursing, and had a private practice as a psychoanalyst at Orchard Plaza.

I get angry when I read Council had added x number of police officers at the request of the police detachment. There is a total lack of monitoring and accountability by City Council through either a special committee and or City Hall bureaucrats.

Brad Sieben: The above issues are related to drug addiction and are not an enforcement issue per se  The root cause is drug addiction and we need to work to advocate for better treatment options and housing.  Hiring of security, RCMP and Bylaws are needed to improve the sense of safety in the short term until more supportive housing beds and treatment programs are available.  It's being reactive vs proactive, but it is needed in the interim.  A community court may provide better outcomes related to enforcement.

Dustin Sargent: I don’t necessarily think there needs to be an increase in enforcement budget but I certainly wouldn’t want to see a decrease especially the RCMP bike patrol, which was reduce a couple years ago and thankfully restored and if there were to be an increase I’d like see it here in all city centers. I would rather see a tax initiatives created to attract more healthy businesses to some of the less desirable areas. I am also an advocate for satellite RCMP or City offices to these areas of Kelowna.

Mohini Singh: Enforcement alone is not the answer. It is an extremely complex issue that requires council to respond to day to day issues of public safety while working with agencies/non-profits and senior governments to map out strategies to address the root causes of homelessness. First, few homeless people are involved in crime.  Due to their marginalized status they are often victims of violence and/or attract people who prey upon their vulnerability.

During my terms on council, I have voted for additional support measures e.g. more boots on the ground (adding RCMP officers as requested from time to time), and funding/opportunities for local agencies to partner with enforcement. I believe that this has given our frontline officials the personnel and resources to proactively focus on prevention and deterrence, as well as frontline response when required. However, we still have specific areas in the city where incidences are occurring far too frequently, and this must be addressed. Increasing policing strategies is one answer, but we also need to continue to advocate for more supportive wrap around services for our homeless population.

Luke Stack: This is more than an enforcement issue. Increased enforcement alone will not improve the situation significantly. The key to improving the downtown environment is to relocate people into long-term supportive housing. Secondly, Interior Health needs to advance a new detox program and improve mental health services to help people get stabilized.  Looking back, City Council has increased its budget to pay for additional street cleaning, the addition of new Bylaw Officers and expanded the RCMP in 2018. This has helped, but does not resolve the issues.

Loyal Wooldridge: Crime, safety and homelessness will not be solved with enforcement alone, we’ve heard this directly from the RCMP.  It’s imperative to note that these three subjects must be addressed separately as homelessness does not always equate to criminality.  Currently, with minimal, uncoordinated social support services it’s hard to tell what is genuine homelessness and what is criminal activity.  So, everyone who looks like they are living on the street is often grouped to the latter.

I do agree that more needs to be done in conjunction with enforcement.  But it’s evident that the old approach in dealing with social issues is not working.  We’ve built a new $48M police service building, hired 4 summer bike patrol teams (police/bylaw), contracted private security and have created and filled 50 positions across RCMP, bylaw and fire services.  Still, 20% of residents feel downtown is unsafe (2017 Citizen Survey) and 82% of businesses have concerns of safety (Kelowna Chamber poll). 

A firm, swift focus on the prosecution of high level criminals in addition to their exclusion from certain zones will limit their ability to prey on our vulnerable population.  Safety can be improved with a lived experience peer clean-up program where homeless folks can be paid to clean up needles.  Crime Prevention by Environmental design, like bright lights in City Park will discourage criminal activity.  All the while, we must work to continue to embrace the Housing First model; build dormitory style accommodations WITH wrap around support services to rehabilitate those faced with mental health and addictions issues.

Every dollar we invest into Housing First saves $1.54 through the reduction on service demands (medical/enforcement).  To me, those numbers make good business sense.

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