Leaders in the South Cariboo are speaking out about the “unsatisfactory” level of policing services in rural communities and concerns it could lead to vigilante justice.
Al Richmond, Cariboo Regional District Area G director for 108 Mile Ranch and Lac La Hache, brought up the issue at last week’s South Cariboo Joint Committee meeting, stating that rural residents who pay hefty taxes for RCMP protection aren’t getting the services they pay for.
“Area G and Area L pay a lot of money for RCMP policing based on their property taxation,” Richmond said at the meeting Thursday, which was attended remotely by 100 Mile RCMP Staff Sgt. Svend Nielsen.
“We need to look at how we’re going to provide a better policing presence in rural areas.”
CRD chair and Area H director Margo Wagner echoed Richmond’s concerns, noting that property crime in the Forest Grove and Canim Lake area is prompting some residents to threaten to take matters into their own hands.
“I’m really, really worried I’m going to have some vigilante justice taking place out here,” Wagner said. “I hear from these guys frequently that they’re just done. If someone comes on their property, it’s not going to be pretty. And that scares the hell out of me.”
Nielsen said staffing levels and an overall increase in the seriousness of files have presented challenges for members, while changes to the “accounting we have to do through the court process” have also diverted members’ time and energy from being out on active patrol.
While attempts have been made to increase members’ presence in outlying areas through the RCMP’s Rural Crime Prevention Plan, Nielsen said demands on existing and more serious files don’t always make that increase a reality.
“It’s difficult to try and do something different with the demands that we have with the files we’re already getting,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and promise you the world when I can’t do that. We try to do the best job we can with the people and the manpower we have. And honestly, I can’t expect my team to do anything more than they really can right now.”
An additional RCMP member is on its way to the local detachment next month, Neilsen pointed out, in part thanks to the push for more help from local government.
While property crime was top of mind for area directors at last week’s meeting, Richmond later told the Free Press his concerns stem from infractions that are being documented and reported to RCMP by residents, but are not attended to or followed up on by police.
While he wouldn’t cite specific incidents, Richmond did point out that the funding for police is based on population, and his area – 108 Mile Ranch and Lac La Hache – has more than double the population of 100 Mile House.
“A lot of money comes from rural areas to fund policing and we aren’t seeing the presence,” he said.
Richmond said his concerns are “not a reflection of the local detachment,” nor does he believe that major crimes should “run second place” to less serious infractions. He said he will be meeting with Nielsen to further discuss the issue and will continue to mount pressure on other levels of government.
“We need to do the best we can to at least move forward with a solution,” he said.
In the meantime, Richmond encourages residents to continue calling the RCMP when they need assistance or have witnessed an incident, and to ask for a file number and the name of who they spoke with.
“It can’t just be me complaining to them, it needs to come from the people who are impacted,” Richmond said. “If we just let these things pass, the chances of it getting resolved is much less likely.”