A new Statistics Canada study on police-reported crime data from 2019 shows Kelowna with the fastest growing crime rate in Canada.
Crime increased by 24 per cent, compared to 2018, according to StatsCan. The violent crime rate increased 65 per cent. And the crime severity Index — a measurement of the volume and severity of crime — rose 20 per cent, which is also more than any other city in Canada.
The Kelowna census metropolitan area's crime rate is now 10,747 incidents per 100,000 residents, the second highest overall in Canada, just behind Lethbridge, Alta.
The national average is 5,874 per 100,000 residents.
The central Okanagan city's metropolitan area for census purposes includes the cities of Kelowna, West Kelowna, Peachland, Lake Country and their surrounding rural areas.
Statistics Canada notes one reason for the crime rate increase, especially in violent crimes, was the new Kelowna RCMP reporting method.
In 2018, the detachment faced public criticism over its handling of sexual assault cases. Statistics Canada revealed 40 per cent of sexual assault cases reported to Kelowna RCMP were dismissed as "unfounded" — three times the national average.
A national RCMP sexual assault review team investigated and recently determined that there was an underlying clerical error in how the cases were being classified that skewed the statistics.
Even so, the national team wound up recommending Kelowna RCMP reinvestigate 12 of the cases it had closed.
The 2019 StatsCan report also shows increases in robbery, car theft, mischief, uttering threats and shoplifting.
According to the report, Kelowna also has the highest rate of opioid-related offences in Canada, at 124 per 100,000 people, compared to 35 in Vancouver.
'Communities remain extremely safe,' say RCMP
RCMP Supt. Kara Triance, the new commander of the Kelowna detachment, responded to the new statistics in a written statement, blaming much of the increase in the overall crime rate on non-violent property crimes and a transient population.
"We recognize that this ranking appears concerning, but I would like to stress that Kelowna and the surrounding communities remain extremely safe," Triance stated.
"Kelowna is also a resort destination during the summer with a significant increase in visitor population. While that number is not reflected in our population statistics, it does affect reported crime."
Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran also noted the increase in non-violent crime and called for more co-ordination and provincial support to tackle the problem. "We work with RCMP every day to address criminal behaviour, but we need senior levels of government to address the underlying problems of health, housing and poverty that contribute to these downstream issues," Basran stated. "RCMP need support from other agencies to deal with repeat offenders." Since 2015, the city has approved funding for 34 new full-time RCMP officers and 23 police safety support staff. The detachment has increased patrols on Friday and Saturday nights and bolstered investigative support teams involved in complex crimes.