Town and RCMP officials have scheduled a community meeting on Feb. 20 to address concerns about public security.
Following a spate of unrelated major crimes in Vanderhoof, including the fatal shooting of a teenage girl on Dec. 20, 2012, and the discovery of two suspected homicides in January, officials want to open dialogue with the community about public safety.
“When we have crimes that we didn’t expect, all of a sudden it’s shattered for a bit,” said Mayor Gerry Thiessen.
“But when bad things happen, such as what we’ve experienced this past month, we shouldn’t generalize where we are as a community.”
The Vanderhoof RCMP detachment has gradually assumed a more strategic and proactive approach to policing between 2010 and 2012, when Sergeant Jason Keays took over as commander.
Over the same time period, the town implemented at least three crime-prevention initiatives aimed at reducing loitering, curbing alcohol offenses and increasing the presence of police in the community.
According to statistics released by the Vanderhoof RCMP, liquor offenses have risen 88 per cent since 2010, when some of the initiatives were put in place.
“These are all things that will be discussed at the meeting,” said Thiessen.
Two years ago, the town requested the North District RCMP to complete an audit on increasing the number of officers in Vanderhoof, mainly to reinforce the newly implemented initiatives, but also to keep up with population growth.
Keays said more officers would alleviate stress and reduce exhaustion on an already strained police force.
“Maybe our police are working full out, and the only way to make sure we address these issues is with one or two more officers,” said Thiessen.
From 2006 to 2011, the population of Vanderhoof increased by 10.2 per cent, according to B.C. Stats.
“Yet our police force has stayed the same,” said Thiessen, adding that neighbouring communities, like Fort St. James and Burns Lake, have more RCMP officers than Vanderhoof.
Additional officers have been temporarily stationed in Vanderhoof until the RCMP audit is finished, but resources at the detachment are being stretched thin as calls for service rise and people continue moving to the community seeking work in the natural resources sector.
Keays said the Vanderhoof RCMP can no longer abide by the notion that no call for service is too small to designate a response, such as a report of minor mischief.
“They are irritating, but might not necessarily be the best use of police resources,” said Keays.
“We will still strive to provide the excellent service that we now get from the local RCMP, but we have to prioritize.”
In theory, by targeting specific small offenses, Thiessen said it’s less likely that potential offenders will branch out to others areas of crime.
The crime-reduction initiatives are also designed to make the community a more uncomfortable place for loitering and public drunkenness, said Thiessen.
“We’re trying to deal with certain types of crimes, and hopefully that will show the community, and those outside the community, that this is the place they want to be,” he said.