A night of heated discussion surrounding issues with North Kamloops' marginalized population saw many people expressing frustration with a complicated situation that has no clear solution.
The North Shore Business Improvement Association hosted a community safety forum at the United Way’s Xchange office on Tranquille Road on Thursday night, during which many attendees expressed issues with loitering, drug use and vandalism around the Tranquille business corridor.
Kamloops RCMP Supt. Syd Lecky and Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian addressed the crowd, stressing their understanding of people’s frustrations, but didn't offer much in terms of solutions aside from the importance of implementing crime prevention measures and the need for a continued, collective effort from multiple social agencies to address underlying issues of homelessness.
The limitations of police in being able to effectively address some of the issues was also stressed.
A longtime North Shore business owner named Sue, who did not wish to give her last name, told KTW she learned a lot from the meeting, but wasn’t sure it was all helpful.
“I learned that we shouldn’t call the police if someone is on our property, making it difficult for my customers to shop in my store,” said Sue, who has owned Lo-Boy Market on Tranquille Road for eight years.
Issues that have drawn the small business owner’s ire include loitering, aggressive panhandling, drug use and drug dealing around her business — issues she feels have become worse over the years.
“I’m not saying we can’t accept and we can’t understand and we can’t be compassionate and empathetic, but I have a business to run and I don’t think if they all loitered around city hall, that would be acceptable,” Sue told KTW.
The RCMP is only part of the solution, Lecky told the crowd.
“We’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem,” he said.
Dispersing homeless people standing on the street isn’t much different than the average person doing so, he said, adding it’s not a good use of police resources.
Lecky explained the reason people may experience long wait times when calling police with respect to these issues is because they are lower on the RCMP's priority scale, which he broke down into four categories.
The top two priority calls involve threats to life and/or serious violence, such as 911 calls, bomb threats, abductions, break-ins in progress, impaired driving and assaults.
Lecky said officer response times for those calls average between eight and 10 minutes.
Priority three calls were described as those not requiring immediate police action, such as sudden deaths, and are responded to in more than an hour’s time, on average.
Anything classified as a priority four — such as mischief, fraud and theft — is deemed to not require police being dispatched, but possibly further action, Lecky said.
Christian told the crowd the city has been in discussion with the province about these issues, adding council is pushing for the establishment of a sobering centre and more capacity for prison accommodation with wraparound services and support for women and youth.
“Those are deficiencies we see in the community and those are things that we have talked to the government about,” Christian said.
He said the problem is not unique to Kamloops, noting bylaw services, the parks department, community services and the Customer Care and Patrol teams are all involved in the issue.
“There are no easy wins here,” Christian said, adding the problem may get worse before it improves. He said people need to protect their property through crime prevention measures, such as better lighting and locking up valuables.
Lecky also stressed police have no control over offenders being released quickly once they move into the criminal justice system.
He noted police services is the most expensive cost to the municipality and doesn’t believe having “a police officer on every street corner” is something the city can afford to do to address people’s concerns.
Touching on the issue of trespassing, Lecky said there’s a belief officers will respond and make an arrest, which doesn’t happen.
“I don’t have lawful authority to do that. In best-case scenario, somebody might get a ticket, the effect of which, for a homeless person, is to make their problem worse,” he said.
He also questioned the benefit of issuing a person with an alcohol addiction a ticket for being drunk in public, noting that, too, only worsens the person’s situation.
He explained that some people also don’t have the capacity to dry out on their own.
Among the 50 to 60 people in attendance on Thursday, many expressed a sense that there is little support for business owners who are trying to make a living and have everything to lose.
Jasbir Mahal of Arpa Developments said he thinks people feel they receive “the short end of the stick” as property and business owners when bylaws or RCMP officers respond to complaints.
Following Lecky’s presentation, many people in the crowd expressed the feeling that business owners shouldn’t call police for help, with one man saying if the police have few options, then agencies like ASK Wellness should have a larger role to play.
Another man said there should be something done to educate people living on the streets about their impact on business owners.
“We work for our money and we’re the ones that are financially invested, emotionally invested,” he said.
Following the meeting, Sue told KTW she feels the RCMP’s hands are tied in a lot of these situations, but argued if someone breaks the law, they need to be held accountable.
She said she feels a solution is a long way off, but that the meeting went well.
“This is bigger than a small community meeting,” Sue said.
Following the meeting, Lecky told KTW he wanted to address residents at the meeting so they understood police hear their concerns and are working to address issues.