Added police presence is making a difference, helping to keep the peace on city streets, but there’s one major hitch: The foot patrols can’t be maintained beyond summer.
RCMP Supt. Brad Mueller told the coordinated enforcement task force in its quarterly meeting Monday that as many as six additional officers daily have been doing dedicated foot patrols in the downtown and along Tranquille Road over the past four weeks.
“The feedback we’re getting is positive,” he said. “Certainly we’re not seeing the issues and the number of problem areas that we were experiencing even a month ago.”
The patrols attend to recurring complaints from businesses, including aggressive panhandling and vagrancy. Those increased downtown in spring, leading to a concerted call for enforcement action from Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association members.
However, Kamloops detachment doesn’t have enough officers to maintain the current level of enforcement and Mueller wants the City, as well as social service agencies such as ASK Wellness and Emerald House, to look at other means of addressing the problems.
“We can’t arrest our way through these social issues.”
Police are prepared to work with marginalized residents who want to obtain help, but there is a subset who are not looking for that, Mueller said.
“There’s also a group that we’ve identified … that are intent on creating social discord, living on the prevails of crime, and it’s for those people we have zero tolerance.”
Mueller said they’ve been working with City bylaws to ensure the courts are aware of the impact of that group, which has no ties to Kamloops.
The city’s reputation in terms of available social resources has made it a magnet for some of those criminals, who chose to remain on their way through to the Lower Mainland, Mueller said.
“You’re quite right, you can’t enforce and arrest your way out of it,” said Stephen Puhallo of the North Shore Business Improvement Association, raising another issue among businesses on that side of the river. They don’t want to see the issues that arose downtown simply pushed over the bridge.
That happened in 2006, when sex workers migrated to Tranquille from downtown, a problem that led to formation of the coordinated task force, he noted. The task force is chaired by the mayor and includes representatives from City bylaws, City council, social service agencies and the RCMP.
“We still have our heads above water but if a wave comes we’re going to sink again,” Puhallo said.
Puhallo said it’s important that the enforcement level be sustainable and matched by support from agencies to ensure there is continued progress.
Mayor Peter Milobar said he's heard from both sides of the river, including Valleyview, about "displacement."
"We're certainly aware of the displacement issue," but the current level of enforcement is unsustainable, Mueller reiterated.
Milobar said the issue is one of human resources, not City police finances. The country's national police force needs more recruits to replace retiring officers, an issue compounded by the aging demographic.