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“Officers are getting exhausted”: Penticton RCMP dealing with medical crisis on the streets

Penticton police deal with twice the calls for mental health than Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon
Penticton dealing with mental health crisis on its streets and Penticton RCMP are in the frontlines. (file photo)

On a per-capita basis, Penticton RCMP responds to twice as many mental health calls as Kelowna, Kamloops and Vernon, said Penticton’s top cop.

Supt. Brian Hunter was in front of Penticton city council on Tuesday to speak candidly about the ‘medical crisis’ going on in the streets of this community that is tying up a significant amount of police resources.

In 2019, Penticton RCMP saw 1,473 calls for service related to mental health and addictions. In 2020, that number jumped 19 per cent. In 2021, Penticton officers went to a record 2,240 calls for service for mental health, which is up 28 per cent.

“That is over six mental health calls a day,” Hunter told council.”For example, last Tuesday or Wednesday, by 8 a.m., every single uniformed officer in this city was tied up in a call dealing with mental health. Those officers should be doing proactive policing and working on crimes,” he said.

“I know it is often said that all our communities are dealing with this issue however Penticton is dealing with these issues significantly more on a per capita basis than any other city compared to places like Kelowna, Kamloops and Vernon.”

Those communities went up about five per cent in calls for mental health compared to Penticton’s 28 per cent increase, he said. “We are dealing with twice as many. Our members are getting exhausted.”

“It’s not an expert to tell you why we have more vulnerable people per capita living in our community. We do have more clients in need per capita who are homeless, with addictions and mental health.”

Hunter said he has reached out to Interior Health. He said they agreed that repeat clients need to be the focus to get them the treatment they need.

Hunter said he has been pushing IH to have a psychiatric nurse ride along with officers to these types of calls, as is being done in Kamloops and Kelowna.

“I would love it, the members would love it. We are not trained to deal with these critical situations. Our training isn’t focused on mental health,” he said.

Coun. Judy Sentes called the numbers of call increases ‘horrific’ and said it’s time Penticton brought this to politicians across B.C. at the Southern Interior Local Government Association and the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

“Maybe we need to lead the charge and take action politically,” said Sentes.

On top of having the highest caseload dealing with mental health calls, Penticton continues to carry the burden of having the highest caseload per capita for crimes in B.C., said Hunter on Tuesday.

The Western News has reached out to Interior Health for comment.

READ MORE: Penticton RCMP caseload unsustainable

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Monique Tamminga

About the Author: Monique Tamminga

Monique brings 20 years of award-winning journalism experience to the role of editor at the Penticton Western News. Of those years, 17 were spent working as a senior reporter and acting editor with the Langley Advance Times.
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