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Too much put on shoulders of RCMP suggests MLA

Reformed Police Act could look at spreading responsibility to other responders
Campbell River’s RCMP Detachment. Photo by Marc Kitteringham – Campbell River Mirror

Last week, the Mirror looked into the city of Campbell River’s police budget and explored what the roughly $9.1 million got the average citizen. This week, as a continuation of a series on the future of policing, we will look at how some potential solutions to the problems the RCMP are facing being discussed at the provincial level could play out in Campbell River.

Part two of a series

Read part one here

The provincial government has set up an all-party special committee with the task of delving into the Police Act and coming up with a series of reforms that will ensure that security and safety in this province is set up in a way that benefits the majority of people who live here. The Act, which is now 45 years old, sets out how policing works in the province. Green Party interim leader and MLA Adam Olsen is a member of that committee. He explained that one of the goals is to find a way to reduce the burden that has been put on police officers’ shoulders and to bring in more professionals who are better qualified to handle some of the calls that now fall on the RCMP.

“Right now we’ve put an awful lot on the shoulders of our police force to respond to calls that they might not be trained for. I’m thinking about mental health calls for example,” he said. “We’re not necessarily using our resources appropriately with the right person with the right qualifications…We’ve said that we’re going to have a police response to mental health calls and I think that part of what I hope comes out of this is that we recognize that every call to 911 isn’t necessarily a criminal incident.”

“What’s important here is that we are matching the expertise with the problem, rather than just leaving it up to the police [officer] or other first responders who then have to deal with something that they’re not necessarily trained for,” he added. “By starting with a conversation about where we’re at, what we can do is we can work to get the resources we need in place and figure out what kind of team we need to have.”

Policing in B.C. is a massive and varied job. An officer in Ahousat has a very different experience than one in Campbell River. However, there are some factors that come into play no matter where an officer is stationed.

“A lot of the statutes that are created by government put the RCMP as a de facto person who can look after that statute,” said Insp. Jeff Preston of the Campbell River detachment. “Every law has a set of rules saying who can enforce it, and you would think that under the mental health act that would be a mental health worker. That is the case, but also, by the way, it can be enforced by a police officer.”

“Sometimes, as an officer, you are it. You might be the only government agency in the particular town…In a lot of cases, the police become the de facto mental health worker, the probation officer, you name it. We have to make up the safety net,” he added.

For example, “Quadra [detachment] looks after Cortes, but they don’t have a detachment on Cortes, it’s a boat ride over.”

As the major funder of the municipal detachment, the city has the most say into how the force looks. They can give recommendations into the complement size as well as the priorities. Last week, the Mirror reported that the city of Campbell River considers the downtown core a priority, particularly around alcohol-based crimes that occur in that area. According to city manager Deborah Sargent, many of those incidents could fall to city bylaw officers that patrol the area but under the current rules, any infraction that falls under the criminal code must be dealt with by a RCMP officer.

“One of the issues that we have in community police forces is that the communities can set those standards. When you’re dealing with the RCMP there’s no doubt that there’s a community connection with policing committees that the RCMP interact with,” Olsen said, suggesting that a solution could be to stretch the responsibility among different levels of government, particularly bringing more of that up to the provincial level.

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“I think that the province has a lot more responsibility in this than a local government does, though I think local governments are the closest to their people. There has to be a really close relationship between the provincial government… and the community so we can clearly understand what the community’s expectations are and their concerns and that we can be matching up the correct service for the issue that they’re trying to address,” he said. “In a lot of instances, federal and provincial governments have been in the process of downloading a lot of these responsibilities to local governments, but not necessarily funding the response to the level that is required for them to deal with the situation.”

“We need to makes sure that when a community’s police force is not at its full complement, what does that mean and how is it addressed? When a community identifies that it has standards that it would like, recognizing that every community is unique and they have different ideas and standards that they would like to be met with their community public safety. Is there the flexibility for that to happen?”

Campbell River is home to multiple other agencies that could have a larger presence when responding to 911 calls. Preston said that he and the detachment have good working relationships with these agencies, and that often RCMP presence is requested by mental health workers going on certain calls.

“There’s lots of times that we get calls from them about going to a particular place where they don’t feel safe to go,” he said. “They’re walking into the woods to check on someone, they do want and need the police presence.”

Under a reformed Police Act, there could be teams made up of mental health workers, first responders (like ambulance paramedics), as well as police officers that respond to a certain kind of call. Responders who are trained in local First Nations cultures could also be beneficial, particularly for calls to the multiple communities that currently fall under Campbell River’s jurisdiction. The local detachment does have one officer for Indigenous Policing but under a new Police Act, that could be increased to better serve the people living in the area.

There are myriad groups willing to do the work in Campbell River, including the city and various social organizations. However, the city and the other groups get their mandates from the provincial government. What is needed, according to Olsen, is a change to how we look at policing at a provincial level.

“What’s important is that we start with understanding how these resources are funded and how they’re deployed and that as a society we’ve got it straight. We’re deploying the correct services for the problem,” he said.

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