The Mayor of Quesnel says the city needs more police.
The city provides funding for 21 officers and the province provides for nine; however, Mayor Bob Simpson says the Quesnel RCMP detachment has at times operated with as few as 16 officers.
“This is untenable and unacceptable and must be remedied by the RCMP immediately,” he writes in a letter on the issues he drafted to the Attorney Generals of Canada and the province, as well as the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Public Safety and Solicitor General of British Columbia.
The letter, discussed at a council meeting on Tuesday (June 26), calls for the fulfillment of all 21 funded officers in Quesnel, and also asks for more officers to be funded by the province.
“52 or 53 per cent of the population that the detachment services lives outside the municipal boundaries,” Simpson tells the Observer.
“They have to come up and give us more resources from the provincial side. We’ve been told that’s under review. That’s not a lot of comfort,” he says.
A copy of the letter is also being sent to Prime Minister Trudeau, B.C. Premier John Horgan, Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty, and Cariboo-North MLA Coralee Oakes.
Theft and property crime in Quesnel is up year-on-year from 2016 to 2017.
In 2017, 228 residences were broken into, compared to 134 in 2016. Theft from vehicles went up from 247 in 2016 to 335 in 2017, and theft of vehicles increased from 132 in 2016 to 151 last year. Data for 2018 is not yet available.
“We do have issues with theft and property offences, and we are working to combat it, but we need the people’s help to timely report it and to be vigilant,” says Sgt. Chris Riddle of the Quesnel RCMP.
“Man power is always an issue, but we are trying to be strategic with our approach to keep the community safe,” he says.
Simpson argues that a fully staffed RCMP detachment would allow officers to better stay on top of more criminal activity.
“The prolific offenders program, our summer bike program, serious crime unit… those are the ones that can’t be fully staffed if [staff numbers] comes down, because they have to maintain their crew complement on their shift,” he says.
The mayor’s letter to the provincial and federal governments asks for an increase in local Crown Counsel resources.
It also calls for the immediate addition of short-term resources to both the RCMP and Crown Counsel to prevent the situation from escalating.
“If we were given a special unit, some incremental bodies like they did in Williams Lake a few years ago, where they gave them six extra bodies to get on top of a similar uptick, give us some horsepower to get some bodies on the ground to get on top of this, I think this would be really helpful,” explains Simpson.
With regards to additional resources for the courts, Simpson says there are, in general, a handful of individuals who are doing the majority of the criminal activity.
“They game the system and stick around longer than they should, they get a slap on the wrist or probation, and they are still out there doing it while they are going through the court system. The RCMP catch these folks and it takes forever to go through the system,” he says.
Sgt. Riddle says it’s not as easy as simply making an arrest.
“Everyone, as a Canadian citizen, has the same rights. Even when someone is accused, we have to provide the correct documentation, and we are factual and that information gets sent to the Crown Counsel, they make their decision and if it goes to court, the judge makes a decision. We are one piece of the puzzle.”
While it is often a few repeat offenders who are seen again and again in court, Simpson says new, out-of-town criminals also seem to be targeting Quesnel in recent times.
“One of the questions we have, we are seeing new faces, people who are not our community’s known offenders, we are getting an influx of individuals who are not resident in Quesnel,” he says.
“We have questions about how Seasons House is being run that is potentially attracting individuals that have a place to go to that they may not otherwise be able to go to. We have questions about release from the correctional institution in Prince George, whether Quesnel is being targeted as a place for people to go to if their probationary restrictions mean they can’t remain in Prince George or go back to their hometown.”
While the mayor is hoping for a short-term crackdown on crime in Quesnel, he acknowledges that the issue is a deeper one for rural communities.
The final, and more long-term, action that the letter asks for is additional resources to address the root causes of addiction and mental health issues.
And Sgt. Riddle says there is a definite correlation between drug use and property crime.
“That’s nothing new. It’s been that way in my 17 years of service. The opioid crisis has hit a lot of communities; it has hit us here,” he says.
But Simpson hopes these issues can be addressed while strong actions are taken to make Quesnel a safe place to live for all its citizens.
“That’s my concern right now. We are going overboard on the rights of individuals who have addictions and who have mental health issues. We are going overboard on their rights, and we are discounting the rights of residents to a safe community they can walk about in without fear of criminal activity and their private property being stolen. I think we are unbalanced in our thinking about this,” he asserts.
Simpson says he will be following up with the recipients of the letter as soon as next week.
“I’ll be asking them when we are going to get our timely response.”
In the meantime, both Mayor Simpson and Sgt. Riddle urge the public to be vigilant in protecting themselves and their property.
Simpson says he has personally had a locksmith review his home security, and his family has begun locking the family home, where previously they may not have.
“Lock your doors. Lock your house. Crimes are crimes of opportunity when it comes to property offences,” says Riddle.
“Criminals are going to pick the one car that has the open door to steal from.”