The Vanderhoof RCMP wants to bolster community policing as it faces budget constraints, braces for growth and reflects on major crimes that occurred in the past year, according to Sergeant Jason Keays.
The crime-reduction initiative requires between three to five members of the community to volunteer for programs varying in functionality, serving as additional eyes and ears for RCMP.
The initiative to buildup community policing has gained new urgency, especially following a series of major crimes in Vanderhoof, including a fatal shooting in December 2012 and the discovery of two homicides in January.
Also, as the town prepares for a population surge due to employment in the natural resources sector, and the North District RCMP manages a budget crunch, community policing resources are of increasing importance.
Having witnessed the side effects of the oil and gas industry, Keays hopes programs like Citizens on Patrol, Crime Watch and Crime Stoppers will be strengthened and implemented before workers and families start moving to the region seeking jobs and housing.
“We don’t have the time to patrol as often as we would like to anymore,” he said.
Keays said more members of the community are needed for Citizens on Patrol, a service that involves observing, recording and reporting information and suspicious activity to RCMP during vehicle patrols, for which the town has offered to assist with fuel expenses.
The Crime Watch program entails a more physical presence in the community, with monitoring of property, neighborhoods, public parks and social events. Volunteers are provided with a cell phone, encouraged to wear noticeable jackets and instructed to contact RCMP upon encountering or witnessing a questionable situation.
“Nothing is better than being visible in the community,” said Keays, who patrols on foot whenever possible.
At one point, Vanderhoof had a very successful Crime Stoppers program, but the directors became overwhelmed and the branch was closed, said Keays.
“They just got burnt out,” he said.
Jack Hooper, president of Prince George Crime Stoppers, which helped RCMP remove $7-million of drugs and property off the streets in 2012, said the guidelines of managing a branch are flexible.
“It’s whatever you want it to be,” said Hooper, referring to the workload.
However, directors are obligated to organize board meetings once per month, maintain liaison channels with the RCMP and hold fundraisers regularly, said Hooper.
Ever since the Vanderhoof Crime Stoppers branch shut down, Prince George has been managing the overflow of calls, which amounted to only three or four tips in 2012, said Hooper, compared to 700 anonymous tips that originated in Prince George.
“There’s nobody (in Vanderhoof) to say there’s a Crime Stoppers branch. People aren’t going to call if they don’t know it exists,” said Hooper.
Keays believes more people in the community have information about crime but are reluctant to call RCMP fearing reprisal.
At a public meeting organized by town and RCMP officials on Feb. 20, Superintendent Rod Booth of the North District RCMP said that, in the past ten years, the cost of policing has doubled and the national crime rate has declined.
But Booth said the crime rate might also be falling due to a drop in the number of people reporting incidents, tips and information to RCMP.
During the meeting, Keays was questioned on why some calls aren’t acted on by RCMP.
“We need reliable information,” said Keays, who pointed out that acquiring a search warrant for the home of a known drug dealer takes a significant amount of time, proof and evidence.
Additionally, the reliability of an informant must also be authenticated, which can lead to the loss of anonymity.
Keays said information must be recent and include exact details, like the contents of the home, the times when people are entering and exiting the building, as well as their license plates numbers.
“It’s very invasive for us to go storming into someone’s home and search for drugs,” he said during the meeting.
“We need human sources. We need people who have been in that house, or bought drugs in that house.”
Keays has repeatedly emphasized that if people are apprehensive about providing information to RCMP, they can retain anonymity by calling Crime Stoppers at 1.800.222.TIPS.
“We would never ask somebody to do something that makes them feel uncomfortable, or puts them in a dangerous situation,” he said.