KELOWNA — Kelowna RCMP have taken the unusual step of responding to a new Facebook crime-fighting group with a lengthy news release acknowledging public frustration with crime and outlining steps the detachment is taking – but warning against vigilantism. It’s also at a similar group in Penticton.
The Facebook home page of Take Back Kelowna explains: “We are merely a group of concerned citizens working with other local groups to help report stolen items and crimes in progress. As we all know, crime and theft in Kelowna is out of control. Thieves and the homeless are getting away with stealing from the hard-working public, with next to no repercussions.
“We are not vigilantes. As much as we’d like to walk right up to someone with stolen property and punch them in the face, unfortunately, that is considered assault and you could be charged. You have the right to defend yourself, however, use proper methods such as contacting the RCMP before engaging and properly remove yourself if a situation gets violent. This group has ZERO tolerance on violence, if admins see any comments inciting violence or hear of any violent acts, you will be banned!”
Created only a week ago, the group already has 411 members.
Similar citizen efforts are underway in the South Okanagan. Clean Streets Penticton emerged from a Facebook page that serves as a clearinghouse for photos and information about stolen property and alleged criminals. Members also use the page to organize patrols and round-ups of stolen property.
“Although our community wants quick results, our officers will not act outside of their legal authorities. Citizens have the right to feel safe in their communities but when citizens take the law into their own hands, things can go wrong, very quickly. It is easy to find yourself in a dangerous situation or in legal hot water,” said Const. Mike Della-Paolera, media relations officer in Kelowna.
“The RCMP acknowledges the frustration of being voiced by many in our community who are concerned about property crime. Property crime impacts us all and takes away from our sense of safety within our community.”
Kelowna Regional RCMP are dedicated to property crime proactive enforcement, he said, “and we are taking many steps to address property crime in our community. Kelowna RCMP meet regularly with homeless advocate groups to listen to concerns and work collaboratively to address issues that arise, also provide resource information including indoor shelter availability and extreme weather supplies.”
He noted the proactive enforcement team arrested prolific offender Daniel Wiest, 31, on May 29 on more than 18 charges related to break-and-enters over a two-month period.
“Great work is being done by police officers, however, the propensity for prolific property crime is on the rise as a result of complex social issues coupled with repeat offenders who perpetually re-offend because of a set approach in the justice system,” said Della-Paolera.
As a result of changes in case law, police investigations are far more complex than they were even a decade ago, he said, and repeat offenders are being released into the community without adequate support and care for criminal activity that is driven by addictions and mental health issues.
“Like the health system, the criminal justice system is grappling with the demands; developing new policies and thresholds to assess and triage within available resources. These are complex issues, yet for our community there is a growing perception respecting the inability of police, the justice system or health care system to adequately respond to incidents of crime – especially property crime associated with social issues such as mental health, substance use and homelessness.”
Della-Paolera recommends citizens volunteer for the city’s Block Connector program, part of the Strong Neighborhoods initiative which focuses on building connections between neighbors as a way to promote community safety.
More info at: kelowna.ca. Or join Crime Stoppers, coach youth sport or assist those with addictions.