Penticton’s new top cop says his two major priorities are cracking down on prolific offenders, and dealing with the underlying cause of many crimes that he says is often addiction and mental health issues.
Supt. Brian Hunter arrived on the job last week and introduced himself to local media Wednesday morning. He comes to town with 26 years of policing experience, most recently in Port Alberni.
He takes over from Supt. Ted De Jager, who was often a polarizing figure in the community.
He has taken a week to observe, and has come away with a strong impression that addiction and mental health are a root cause of crime in the community.
“What comes with that is a lot of property crime. Penticton has a lot, one of the highest per capita in the province,” Hunter said. “My job is to actively investigate those crimes, identify those chronic offenders and hold them responsible through the court system.”
Hunter plans to focus energy on cops offering help to those they see repeatedly in the RCMP cells, in the form of partnerships with local front-line organizations in the fight against the addiction epidemic.
“And not every case is going to be a complete success, but we’re going to try for that,” Hunter said. “We will not arrest our way out of this. We won’t. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to arrest people. We will, and we will do a good job of that.”
He recognizes community frustrations over repeat offenders who are released on bail and get “right back at it,” committing more crime.
‘Let’s identify who our chronic offenders are. Who are those core of our criminals?” Hunter said, explaining he will be working on providing thorough”‘bail sheets” to Crown which give the judge accurate information about how many times this person has offended or broken bail restrictions in the past.
“All of that summed up can give the judge an opportunity to make a better decision.”
Other plans include supporting regional detachments with their staffing requests. Hunter was scheduled to visit Oliver on Thursday, hearing more about their policing concerns since the opening of the Okanagan Correctional Centre.
“My job here is not to have a thumb in them and micromanaging. It’s to support them and what they need,” Hunter explained but added that he will be taking anecdotal accounts of increased crime with a grain of salt. “I will be supporting them if the metrics are there.”
He hopes to bring down the average caseload per officer in the South Okanagan region, which is currently at 113 per officer, by far the highest in the province according to recent data.
“We have a lot of work on our plate here, but my goal is to get that crime rate down,” Hunter said. “Ultimately, if we had an unlimited bucket of money, that money should be directed toward those who are addicted and those who have mental health issues, to get them the care and recovery they need. If that was taken care of, crime would almost be eliminated when it comes to drugs and property crime.”
City of Penticton chief administrative officer Donny Van Dyk was on hand to express his excitement about Hunter, and also to say property crime and addictions issues are on the city’s radar as well and may influence the city’s future contribution to the police budget.
“It is something council has identified as their top priority, so I do anticipate a continual willingness from council to invest in our front-line policing resources,” Van Dyk said.
Hunter was reluctant to say anything that could be construed as negative against his predecessor De Jager, when asked whether he will be tougher on criminals.
“Saying ‘take a tougher stance’ would seem to lead to the fact that we weren’t being tough on criminals before, and I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think there is an opportunity for better awareness in the community and what are the challenges,” Hunter said.
“But I will say this: I am tough on crime.”
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