Town and RCMP officials held a meeting at the Village Inn on Thursday, Feb. 20, to discuss public safety issues and strategies in community policing.
Additional rows of seating were needed after some 50 people filled the conference room.
When the meeting began, Mayor Gerry Thiessen and Sergeant Jason Keays, commander of the Vanderhoof RCMP detachment, immediately recognized the region as the traditional territory of Saik’uz First Nation and acknowledged the importance of working as partners in combating crime.
“Crime doesn’t seem to have one boundary, doesn’t seem to stay in one area,” said Thiessen, who alluded to several projects aimed at reducing particular offenses and ancillary crimes in Vanderhoof.
In 2012, for instance, the town hired students to clear Riverside Park of underbrush where people could hide or conceal liquor.
One nearby resident noticed immediate results in the amount of loitering and public intoxication occurring in the park, said Thiessen.
Keays called the approach “policing by environmental design,” and later described a similar model that RCMP and C.N. Rail jointly implemented to reduce theft and trespassing in the rail yard.
Keays also reflected on the Prolific Offenders Program, under which RCMP confront a repeated offender in the community and either offer them help, ask them to move away, or inform them that, if their misconduct continues, they will become a regular target of enforcement.
“If they don’t like that we’re hard on crime, they can leave,” Keays said.
Another crime-prevention initiative between the town and RCMP was put in place about four years ago, when Councillor Darren Carpenter worked with the Chamber of Commerce to purchase a portable camera for the RCMP detachment to help with discouraging vandalism. The idea was based on a similar system in Williams Lake, said Carpenter.
“It’s a tool we thought the RCMP could use to help offset some of those petty issues,” he said.
Community resources are increasingly becoming more crucial to the RCMP as the federal government reduced the deficit, explained Chief Superintendent Rod Booth, commander of the North District RCMP, a massive area encompassing about 70 per cent of the province.
“We can’t do it without you,” he said.
Booth spoke about new pressures faced by RCMP, including tremendous federal budget cuts, a growing population in northern B.C. and the inheritance of more policing responsibilities due to service reductions by other federal agencies, like the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
In the event of a major crime, however, Booth said the North District RCMP has the ability to summon some of the best investigators in the world at a moment’s notice.
For instance, when RCMP discovered two suspected homicides in Vanderhoof on Jan. 13, up to 14 investigators quickly assembled at the Vanderhoof detachment.
“When we have a major case, a major incident, like a homicide we front-and-load as much resources as we can muster together within the first hours, the first days, of that happening because that’s when you’re going to capture most of your information,” said Booth.
Previously Keays said resources and staff at the Vanderhoof detachment are being strained as calls for service rise, increasing 10 per cent since 2010, according to figures compiled by the detachment.
At the meeting, Keays encouraged members of the community to reintroduce a Crime Stoppers program in Vanderhoof and volunteer as directors. He praised the current Crime Watch Programs here and in Cluculz Lake, but stressed that more volunteers were needed.
Council, too, is in favor of establishing more community-based surveillance and has budgeted to help with fuel expenses.
“All they are is the eyes and ears of the community. We would never ask a volunteer to do something that they’re not comfortable with,” said Keays in regards to Crime Watch volunteers.
“Really, all we’re asking is for you to carry a cell phone, and if you see something that we need to know about, just back out of there and call us.”
Concerns were raised at the meeting surrounding inaction by RCMP in response to specific calls, as well as the risk involved in reporting something to police.
In response, Keays said the detachment “can do better,” and added that people can make anonymous reports by calling Crime Stoppers (1.800.222.TIPS).
Questioned about people moving to the community for mining jobs, Thiessen said the tradeoff is more newcomers with increased financial abilities who may be stopping into town to indulge or participate in various activities.
He said growing pressure on hospitals and emergency rooms reflect an influx of individuals, but not necessarily families, who are likely involved with area mining projects and exploration.
“This is going to impact our social ability and we are going to have to be very careful on how we decide what we report (to the RCMP),” he said.