Crime down, but rural RCMP resources stretched

RCMP detachments heads talk policing issues with CSRD directors

Crime is down but RCMP resources are strained in the rural areas of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD).

That is the message from Staff Sgt. Scott West, in charge of the Salmon Arm detachment, Sgt. Murray McNeil from Sicamous and Sgt. Barry Kennedy from Chase, who provided the CSRD Electoral Area Directors committee with an update on their efforts to enforce the law and keep the public safe in the rural parts of the regional district at a June 7 meeting.

McNeil spoke of the challenges of policing Sicamous with the small detachment he commands.

The Sicamous detachment is staffed with a total of six officers and McNeil said manpower challenges are increased by an officer on light duty due to an injury suffered on the job and an officer sent to help out with security at the G7 Summit held in Quebec City on June 8 and 9.

He said members of the public he speaks with are surprised to find Sicamous does not have additional officers sent there to operate the police boat and perform other duties as numerous tourists visit the area for the summer.

“We don’t have reserve army of ready-to-go police officers,” he said.

The Sicamous detachment is able to get some help for special events from RCMP reservists. McNeil said two reserve constables from Vernon operated the Sicamous detachment boat for the Trooper concert on the lake. He added they will not be available for Canada Day, but said he has a $10,000 budget to cover seasonal overtime costs over the summer.

McNeil said having a greater presence on the lake is a goal for his detachment. He said his officers have received training from the RCMP West Coast Marine Section on how to police boaters and give tickets, but McNeil said the focus would be on official warnings and education for those missing only a few necessary safety items.

McNeil said his detachment is working on crime reduction in a number of ways, including checking in on five people in the area that the detachment covers who have a curfew imposed as part of their probation.

On the traffic front, McNeil said each of his officers is tasked with issuing 14 traffic tickets, warnings or liquor infractions each month – they are meeting the goal. He noted that five vehicles were impounded for serious liquor or speed violations over the May long weekend alone.

McNeil said one notable incident in the rural areas his detachment polices was a weapons offence in the Mara-Solsqua area in which a 15-year-old youth was threatening his grandparents. McNeil said was dealt with without criminal charges having to be filed.

In the Malakwa-Craigallechie area McNeil said there were two violent weapons offences on file. One domestic assault which is currently before the courts and one where an arrest was made near Sicamous relating to an investigation by the Kelowna RCMP.

McNeil said his officers do go out into the rural areas the detachment is responsible for, but he acknowledged that the patrols are not frequent due to manpower issues.

“When I listen to your work plan and I see you are so restricted with your manpower, I am dismayed,” said Electoral Area E director Rhona Martin.

Martin said she will do anything she can to help the Sicamous RCMP get more officers for the detachment.

Rural Salmon Arm

The Salmon Arm RCMP polices parts of the CSRD’s rural electoral areas. Staff Sgt. Scott West told the electoral area directors that the number of calls in the rural areas remained fairly consistent between 2015 and 2017 and are similar for the first half of 2018.

Along with its 19 other officers, the Salmon Arm detachment has five provincially-funded officers whose job is primarily focused on policing a large rural area spanning from Ranchero and Silver Creek out to Blind Bay and Sorrento where the Chase detachment’s area begins. West said he has applied for two more rural-focused officers each year since he has commanded the detachment, but says the province will not spend further funds.

West said when it becomes necessary, Salmon Arm officers assist on calls in the rural areas and vice versa.

“If there is a call that needs five officers, five officers go. We have to make sure public safety is maintained.”

Martin said the CSRD directors have tried to lobby for more rural policing resources for Salmon Arm and other detachments at the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) convention in the past.

West said the largest number of criminal code cases originating in the rural areas his detachment covers come from Blind Bay, Eagle Bay and Rural Salmon Arm areas. he said those are the main area of focus for his provincial officers. There was also a higher incidence of violent crime in Blind Bay, Tappen and rural Salmon Arm than in other rural areas, a trend he attributed to their denser population and greater number of tourists.

There was a total of 924 criminal code cases, 126 of them violent, in the rural areas policed by the Salmon Arm detachment.

West said property crime is trending downward across the rural areas, except for the Sorrento area, but he believes the issue there stems from one individual or group and says his officers are working hard to resolve it.

According to West, motor vehicle collisions in the Salmon Arm detachment’s area have been on the rise since at least 2015, but fatalities on the road remain stable at what he describes as a relatively low number. Injuries from collisions are on a downward trend over the last three years.

West attributed the drop in injuries to hard work on his officers’ part in cracking down on distracted driving and running red lights.

“Bent metal can be fixed, lives can’t be replaced,” West said.

Electoral Area C Director Paul Demenok, asked West for an update on fentanyl’s prevalence showing up in illegal drugs in the Shuswap.

West confirmed a very high percentage of drugs seized by officers of the Salmon Arm detachment contain the potentially-deadly opioid.

“Whether it be cocaine, or heroin or something posed as heroin, an inordinate number of our exhibits are showing the presence of fentanyl.”

West said drug dealers in the area do not specialize in one particular substance so the risk of cross-contamination is high.

“You really don’t know what you’re buying on the street.”

Martin said she would like to see a public seminar or workshop on the fentanyl issue, to educate people on the dangers of the drug and other issues surrounding addiction.

Rural Chase

According to Sergeant Barry Kennedy, Chase shares some of the same manpower woes as the other Shuswap detachments. At full strength, the Chase detachment has a corporal, seven constables and a First Nations constable, as well as Kennedy. He said that number has been reduced by leave injuries, transfers and training. Chase’s First Nations constable and one other spot on the roster are currently vacant, but officers are in the process of transferring in.

Twenty-one per cent of the approximately 3,000 calls officers from the Chase detachment responded to in 2017 came from the CSRD rural area they cover. Calls from the Scotch Creek and Sorrento areas make up the majority of the Chase officers’ CSRD duties.

Kennedy said property crime is a big issue in the Chase detachment’s area making up 40 per cent of their total criminal code files. He said his priorities for the detachment going are youth, road safety and crime reduction.

One of Kennedy’s officers tries to make regular visits to North Shuswap Elementary in Celista, doing outreach work including a D.A.R.E. program for the Grade 5 students there.

Kennedy said work on improving road safety in the CSRD area saw seven impaired drivers caught in 2017.

Targeting prolific offenders and checking in on those out on bail is a major part of Kennedy’s crime reduction plan. Kennedy’s officers oversaw five breach of bail and four breach of probation charges in 2017. As in Sicamous, regular curfew checks are employed by the Chase officers.

Kennedy said he is given an $8,000 seasonal budget to help his officers have a presence at major events such as May Long weekend festivities, the Seymour Arm ball tournament and Canada Day.

He said most seasonal events in the Chase detachment’s area take place in the CSRD.

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