The City of Chilliwack has added 15 extra RCMP officers to the force over the last two years and they are having an impact.
Still, with a large year-over-year increase in violent crime, persistent time and energy spent dealing with mental health issues, and an opioid crisis that shows know sign of abating, police resources are always pushed to the limit.
Public safety is the single largest line item in the city’s annual budget with policing taking up nearly a third of tax dollars gathered.
At Tuesday’s afternoon meeting, the new head of the local detachment, RCMP Supt. Bryon Massie, came to city council to talk about how those new officers are being utilized.
Massie explained there are 115 regular members of the RCMP funded by the municipality, with a further 12 positions funded by the integrated teams for a total of 127.
Those numbers come after 10 officers were added in 2017 and five more in 2018.
One new approach tried under Massie’s reign was the Quick Response Team (QRT), which focused on homeless camp inspections, foot patrols in the downtown area and other hot spots, as well as focusing on priority offenders.
The QRT experiment involving eight officers, two per watch, ran from January until May when they had to scale it back due to the extremely busy policing season.
“I spoke to a member today,” Massie told council, “and he was asking when they were going to do that again. He felt he was making a difference out there in a real quick fashion.”
Additions to the Crime Reduction Unit drug section have led to an increase in the seizure of drugs, firearms, methamphetamine, fentanyl, cocaine, along with illegal vehicles.
Massie said over the first half of the year, there was a 167 per cent increase in cracking down on the production of illegal drugs, and a 71 per cent increase in trafficking.
“That’s pretty significant in six months,” he said.
A subject of much discussion at the meeting was the mental health-related incidents police attend to. In the last three months, Massie said they had 608 mental health-related calls, of that 159 resulted in apprehensions.
A serious problem for policing is the fact that when they have someone at the hospital, a member on duty has to wait until the individual is certified by a doctor at the hospital. That can mean an officer is off the street for an hour, two hours or more.
“We’ve had 40 of the 159 that were over two-hour waits,” Massie said. “The longest was 495 minutes. So in my view, that’s a long time for a police officer to be off the street.”
Mayor Sharon Gaetz agreed calling that “completely unacceptable to the community,” pointing to the fact that the provincial government and/or Fraser Health needs to step up to help.
Coun. Jason Lum, too, pointed to the fact that mental health is a provincial government responsibility, yet here we have a municipal taxpayer funded police force spending countless hours in that area.
Massie said the City of Chilliwack has eight officers as part of a provincial component funded by that level of government, something that hasn’t changed since 2005.
“We asked for four more based on calls for service,” Massie told council.
“And you haven’t heard back?” Lum asked.
“Crickets,” the superintendent said.
As for overall crime, the stats are trending down in many categories, despite anecdotes shared on social media. And while Massie himself conceded in his experience that not all incidents are reported, property crime is down eight per cent over the first six months of this year, and auto thefts are down 18 per cent.
Crimes against persons, however, are up 38 per cent, something for which they have not identified a cause.
“We are still trying to sort that out,” he said.
Looking forward to challenges, Massie pointed to the new legalization of cannabis coming in the fall, organized crime and social issues.
Another concern moving forward for Massie is a gang strategy initiated in Surrey that he thinks won’t reduce gang activity, but will simply push it to other communities.
“I’m going to call it the Surrey experiment,” he said. “They’ve just initiated a gang strategy that is going to work for their community but I’m of the belief that their strategy is not going to stop people but is going to displace them. This is something we need to keep an eye on, movement out to the valley.”