The frustration was palpable.
Business owners and operators who showed up at the Coast Hotel late Thursday let off some steam about how homelessness and crime in Chilliwack are affecting them.
Billed as a Town Hall for local businesses by Chilliwack Chamber of Commerce, the event saw top RCMP brass including Supt. Deanne Burleigh and Insp. Davy Lee from Chilliwack RCMP, fielding questions and comments, with city officials.
“We’ve been told ‘It’s not a priority’ when we call you guys, and then get left for hours waiting,” reported one attendee.
Some murmured their confirmation: “Likewise!”
One voice piped up: “Do you want the number of people who call (RCMP) about something and get told, ‘What do want me to do about it?’”
R. Kyle Friesen legal advisor to RCMP, Department of Justice Canada, was supposed to go through a slideshow presentation. But there were too many rapid-fire comments and questions coming from the crowd of about 50.
Friesen tried to quickly cover topics like police-retail co-operation, information disclosure, trespassing, and mischief to commercial property, and retail theft. It was about rights, the recourse against the perpetrators, and their legal responsibilities.
But the audience wanted to talk more about calls for RCMP service which failed to get a timely response, or in some cases no response at all.
“We phone the RCMP because we want help, and we’re getting attitude in return, or ignoring us,” said one furious member of the crowd at the Coast. “We want this to stop. It is exponentially getting bad.”
Supt. Deanne Burleigh replied, “I am hearing all of you!” adding that police can’t help unless they understand what is happening, and the severity.
But the speaker was adamant.
“No, I don’t think you are hearing us, I really don’t think you are,” she said, adding there’s a theft ring operating from shipping containers near the Bottle Depot on Trethewey that RCMP has been told about for at least two years.
They deal stolen goods right out of the parking lot, she stated.
“You know what’s been happening? Zip. We’re all frustrated, extremely angry and frustrated,” she said to loud applause. “We want somebody to come and arrest these people. We don’t want you to come by in your cruiser, talk to them from the cruiser, and then drive away. We want you to put them in the back of the cruiser and take them away. I don’t want to have to see this on a daily basis every day.”
They’re not getting what they need.
“How many people in this room are dealing with this every day?” she asked, and several hands shot up in the air in response.
“This is what we are angry with, the zero help,” she added.
The RCMP’ s top cop tried to assuage the crowd, saying she lives in the commmunity, heard the frustration, and knows what is happening.
“I can’t be on every street corner,” said Burleigh. “I do have to ask each and every one of you to help.”
There are ways to help the police, and protect private property, she said. Build a fence, put some lights up, cut the bushes down and lock your vehicle, she said.
One business person wanted to know what he could do, when people are shooting up in the storefront alcove, blocking the entrance in the morning.
“I open my door and they’re shooting up. You don’t show up. What do I do?” asked the business operator, adding later, “Can I pepper spray them?”
That would be assault, he was told.
“We do show up. But we do have to priorize calls,” said Supt. Burleigh.
Supt. Burleigh explained that the “triage” process used by RCMP dictates which calls get dispatched first.
“We attend to 911 calls on a priority basis.”
She wanted to follow up with the business person who said they trapped a suspected shoplifter in a change room, but couldn’t get an officer to attend.
“My concern is that they’re screening calls. We actually had someone detained,” reported the store official.
“If I could get the date and time of that incident from you, I truly want to look into it,” Supt. Burleigh said.