With files by Rebecca Dyok, Melanie Law and Autumn MacDonald
Policing is challenging on any given day in Quesnel and the surrounding areas. No single event exacerbates that than the annual Billy Barker Days festivities each July.
Well, at least, most Julys. There were two of them missed due to the global pandemic, so 2020 and ‘21 are outliers. Last year’s return to Billy Barker Days action was also somewhat off the usual line, since the crowds and the sequence of events weren’t at full throttle.
Last year, looking back at police preparations, the Quesnel RCMP detachment knew it had to give the summer event some special attention, even with the bounce-back reductions in effect.
“We’ll be prepared to respond to any incident, as we always are,” said Quesnel RCMP detachment commander Staff Sgt. Richard Weseen at the time. “Hopefully, everything goes well, and the weather is good, and it will be good to see all the citizens out and about.”
Weseen noted that the overall community was happy to have Billy Barker Days back and people were looking forward to being out, having fun. While jovial moods were expected to prevail, police are the first responders who are tasked with addressing the isolated incidents and underlying currents that can spoil the fun for others. Whenever people get together in large groups, especially when the intent is public merriment, some people can take it too far, or an unexpected thing occur.
Some people even use the community festivities to commit crimes. According to Weseen, Billy Barker Days are typically one of the busiest times for the Quesnel RCMP when it comes to calls for service.
In the 2019 edition, there were 125 calls for police service attributed to the event, which was down from 173 in 2018, 149 in 2016 (there was no festival in 2017 due to the wildfires), and in 2012 there were 270 police files generated.
“Most of them were minor in nature,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Burton at the time. “While the RCMP were working steady, and several arrests were made over the weekend for minor offences, the majority of people were enjoying themselves and were responsible, resulting in very few concerns for police.”
In 2018, Sgt. Chris Riddle said there could be as many as 5,000 extra people in Quesnel to enjoy the events,
“Billy Barker Days is one of the busiest festivals in Northern B.C. … You will see more members out ensuring everyone is enjoying themselves in a lawful manner,” says Sgt. Riddle.
In past years, the Quesnel detachment would call in supplementary members and resources from Williams Lake, Prince George, North District Traffic, and other neighbouring units. They have added a regimen of road checks, licenced premise checks of local liquor establishments, extra patrols of the barn dance, and other preventative interventions.
There was no word, yet, on what those plans might be, this time, but last year, the planning worked well.
“We’re set, we’re ready to go, and we’re hoping for a safe and fun weekend,” Weseen said at the time.
This year is no different in that policing approach. It’s far too early to predict what the weather might be like, or other conditions of that time period, but with COVID’s lockdowns firmly behind us, this could be more of a prototypical Billy Barker Days event.
“We are looking forward to the upcoming Billy Barker Days and taking part in this event,” said Quesnel RCMP Sgt. Clay Kronebusch. “We are working on planning resources for the festivities in efforts to help keep it a safe and enjoyable event for everyone and their families.”
Billy Barker Days this year happens July 13-16.