'I FEAR WE WILL NEVER SEE A COP LIKE BILL MCKINNON AGAIN'
If you think you have a crime problem in your city or your neighbourhood, it would be hard to argue with you.
While the stats may not exactly show it, the headlines indicate something different is going on. Crime seems more prominent in Kamloops where in the past couple of years a police officer was shot and nearly killed, thieves are getting more brazen and random acts of violence seem almost common. In Vernon, arsons are almost expected and four or five times this year houses were shot at, including one home where a child was injured by a stray bullet. Throughout the Central and South Okanagan, drugs fuel gangs and killings and innocent people are getting caught in the fray. Penticton has far more than its share of drugs and companion crimes.
The question is what do we do about it.
For instruction, lets go back to 2004-2005. Presumably most cities and towns had problems on scale with Kelowna where the crime stats matched daily reality. Kelowna RCMP was dealing with three robberies and 31 stolen vehicles per week for the first three months of 2005. Car thefts were up 97 per cent over 2004. Drug offences were up 27 per cent in 2005 on top of a 47 per cent increase the year before, according to my notes from that time.
The streets were a mess. A scourge of crack cocaine and later crystal meth fuelled most of the crimes. Leon Avenue and City Park were homes for dozens if not hundreds of tweakers and hardcore drug users doing what they could for their next fix. Violence was common, punctuated by the mugging and stabbing of sitting city councillor Brian Given.
Bill McKinnon had recently taken the helm as Superintendent of Kelowna RCMP detachment and he was never afraid to stand up and be accountable. He was always accessible and made his officers and teams available for questions or to help provide first-hand knowledge of the situation.
He came out swinging. He criticized local judges and the court system in general for often letting out the prolific offenders causing most of the problems.
“One way or the other we are going to take back the streets of Kelowna for the people here to feel safe using all the legislation available to us,” McKinnon said.
He put himself front and centre in a community forum designed to help find answers. He tried everything from inviting and encouraging citizens to attend and watch the courts for more accountability. He tried to swing a deal with Central Okanagan Crimestoppers to fund more officers. His second-in-command appeared later with two local judges, Crown prosecutors and a criminal defence lawyer at a second forum when the community got really fed up.
McKinnon took cops out of cars and had them walking downtown streets day-and-night. He added bike patrols, plainclothes and undercover cops, dogs and even a Gator. He reached out and partnered with the Downtown Kelowna Association, parks employees, bylaw officers, mental health workers and homeless workers and got them in a workshop to identify everything they could do to help.
“Our response will be different each and every day of the week depending on availability of our resources and the availability of other organizations but I guarantee we will have a presence because we need to make the streets safe.”
And it wasn’t just about law and order. He spoke often about social supports for drug addicts to have a chance to get treatment once in a jail cell.
What we didn’t have was vigilantism or support for vigilantes. That’s because McKinnon was front and centre day after day to ensure the people of this city knew he was on it. His officers reinforced that, showing daily the challenges and progress of what they do.
He was the leader we needed and if you wanted to help, you got behind him.
He understood that justice isn’t done unless it’s seen to be done. That’s how you keep people calm. That’s how you get support.
What a long time ago, that was. I fear we will never see a cop like McKinnon again.
Flash forward to 2016. In Kamloops, a kid remains in a coma allegedly because a man took matters into his own hands and crushed his skull with a baseball bat. A spate of crime in Vernon has prompted public calls for the Soldiers of Odin — a vigilante group of bikers — to patrol the streets. They have now established a chapter in the Okanagan. Creep Catchers feel police aren’t doing their jobs, so they "out" people they suspect are willing to have sex with kids. In Kelowna, when a man found two people on his property, police say he shot first and asked questions later.
This vigilantism and its supporters must be stopped, but I suspect this will only grow, fuelled by social media which is threatening to disrupt police activities as if they were music or movies.
So how do our top cops react? We’ve seen precious little response to either the crimes or the calls for vigilantism. In Kamloops, Supt. Brad Mueller typically isn’t available and not just to media but to other community partners who want to help and think they can. In Vernon, Supt. Jim McNamara has been asked many times to offer a comment to help calm fears in the community about the shootings and he has refused every opportunity.
No officer anywhere has spoken with any assurances that they got this and vigilantes should stay home.
I have no doubts whatsoever that our police forces are working damn hard and are more than capable of handling what the bad guys throw at us. But that's not enough. It must be seen to be done, by both the bad guys and the public alike.
It’s time the leaders of the RCMP stepped out to become leaders in our communities. Show us what’s going on. Show us the successes and challenges and failures.
Make us believe you got this.
— Marshall Jones is the editor of iNFOnews.ca