By ROY WOOD
About 200 people gathered at the Oliver Community Centre on Monday to be reassured that policing in their community is up to snuff and to politely vent about what they see as some shortcomings.
A panel of senior and street-level Mounties proffered some reassurance and, at the same time, reminded local residents that crime fighting needs to involve the citizenry as well as the cops.
Leading the discussion was RCMP Superintendant Kevin Hewco, the officer in charge of the Penticton detachment with responsibility for the smaller units as far south as Osoyoos and west to Princeton.
The spark that led to Monday’s meeting was a complaint to the town council late last year about the increase in crimes against businesses, particularly in the industrial park.
Hewco said Oliver wasn’t alone and that the whole province has seen a sharp increase in property crimes, but he offered some statistics on the spike in the Oliver area in between 2010 and 2015:
- Breaking and entering of businesses up from nine to 53;
- Vehicle thefts up from zero to 84;
- Overall property crime up 61 per cent.
As for solutions, Hewco pointed to the RCMP’s Prolific Offender Management (POM) program, which targets the most active criminals and concentrates resources against them. “We designate targets and we work them hard,” he said.
He read out a press release about a three-person gang of criminals who had been working between the Okanagan and west-central Alberta. They were on the POM list and were busted last week in Edson, AB with a large quantity of illegal drugs and stolen property.
But police work alone isn’t enough, he said. Solving property crimes depends on intelligence and information from the public and witnesses who are willing to go to court when charges are brought.
Hewco told the crowd that, faced with the opening of the provincial jail just north of town later this year, he has made a “business case” to have two more officers assigned to the Oliver detachment. They would supplement the current nine unformed officers and two detectives.
Cindy Stewart was first to the microphone in the question period, seeking help regarding a “well-known crack head” who has “terrorized” her home and even duped her father, who suffers from dementia, into letting her into the house.
Oliver officer-in-charge Blaine Gervais said the woman is well known to police and that if a member of the public comes forward with evidence of a criminal act, they will pursue charges.
Mayor Ron Hovanes, who hosted the evening, said the by-law enforcement officers have an “active file” on the woman, who lives in a trailer that isn’t suitable for occupancy.
Allan Patton, of rural Oliver, told the panel that a gasoline tank on his property was broken into “five or six times last year. He said he provided videotape of one of the thefts along with the licence number to the RCMP.
“I didn’t get the feeling that much was done about it,” he said.
Gervais acknowledged that the detachment should have been more aggressive in pursuing the case. “I fully apologize,” he said.
Norm Beaumont, a retired Mountie who recently moved to Vaseux Lake, described the local property crime stats as at a crisis level, said there needs to be better communication inside the local detachment.
On the crime prevention side, Ron Johnson of the Oliver Citizens On Patrol group told the audience the group does good work “two old farts driving around at midnight.”