City councillors were provided a review of policing in the municipality during the past year.
At the February 15 committee of the whole meeting, Powell River RCMP detachment commander staff sergeant Rod Wiebe outlined policing statistics for the city during 2021.
Wiebe said the municipal complement of police in 2021 was 20 officers, with eight provincially funded officers. He said this has not changed since 2020, when the city authorized the 20th officer. He said the detachment’s request for increasing the provincial complement has fallen on deaf ears for the last three years.
While the city has approved 20 positions, the staff vacancy rate has gone up.
“Given our vacancy and absence pattern right now, it’s allowed us to continue policing,” said Wiebe. “If we had the 18 resources right now, with our vacancies, we would have been in dire straits to provide the basic policing service.”
In terms of crime severity index, COVID-19 must have affected Statistics Canada because the number has not been updated since 2019, according to Wiebe. He said 2019 was the worst year, crime-related, since Wiebe has been here, since 2011.
“I’m guessing, because of COVID-19, in 2020, that’s gone down, and in 2021, given the call volume, it probably went up a bit more but not as bad as 2019.”
Wiebe then reviewed year-over-year crime statistics, indicating 2019 was the high. He said 2020 is hard to compare because it’s the start of the pandemic.
“The different public health orders that were put in place, I believe, truly affected what was going on,” said Wiebe. “In 2021, it’s coming back to more normalcy.”
Wiebe said impaired driving was higher in 2021 than in 2019. He said it’s one of the detachment’s priorities, and the detachment has added a drug recognition expert, which has helped to enforce drug impaired driving.
“Our members take that personally and make a concerted effort to get those numbers to where they are,” said Wiebe. “It’s a proactive statistic. The harder we work in that area, the higher that number is going to go up.”
Wiebe also mentioned mental health complaints, which are up substantially. In 2021, there were 319 calls, compared to 255 in 2020.
“It’s a very labour intensive area for us,” said Wiebe. “I maintain we are not the best agency to be dealing with those types of calls but it is what it is. We need to pick up the slack where other social agencies perhaps don’t have the resources to deal with that.”
Wiebe said that overall, property crime is up 9.84 per cent over 2020 and persons crimes are up 12 per cent.
“This is going against what we are seeing in Vancouver Island district, total, where property crime is down slightly at three per cent and persons crime is up slightly at three per cent,” said Wiebe.
Property crime, drugs
Councillor George Doubt asked the staff sergeant about property crime and Wiebe said small theft complaints are up, which affect statistics. Wiebe said residential break and enters are down 11 per cent, business break and enters are down nine per cent, bike thefts are down 11 per cent and auto thefts are down 12 per cent.
“They take all the different property crimes and roll them into one and they just come up with a general property crime statistic,” said Wiebe.
Doubt said what he understands is that the crimes listed were not going up as high as some people in the community think they are. Wiebe said they are not.
Wiebe said drug trafficking is a priority for the Powell River detachment. In the first half of the year, the detachment saw great success, according to Wiebe. He said the plain clothes division has been seconded to frontline policing, so those positions are no longer in place, probably since August 2020.
Wiebe said in the first half of the year, the detachment took down one of the biggest seizures in 10 years. Seizures included cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl, LSD, GHB, known as the date rape drug, and cannabis. Multiple vehicles and a rural property have been seized, along with several firearms.
Calls for service
In terms of calls for service, in 2020, calls were down, but in 2021, the detachment responded to 6,716 calls. This represents a 10.5 per cent increase over 2020. Wiebe said the increase is only three per cent over 2019 but if the five-year average is taken, the 2021 figure is 10 per cent above that, so 2021 was a very busy year.
Of those calls, 76 per cent were within the city and 24 per cent were in the rural areas, according to Wiebe.
He said the criminal justice system is a huge challenge for the RCMP, even though they are part of it.
“It’s very offender focused and it challenges all of our crime reduction strategies that we’ve been used to implementing over the last 10 years,” said Wiebe.
He provided a case study of a 36-year-old male subject, who has had 156 police contacts since January 2019. The subject has a criminal record with seven convictions, all from 2020. Wiebe provided an extensive list of police contacts with this individual, some happening on a daily basis. While the RCMP tried to hold him in custody on several occasions, the subject was released by crown council.
Wiebe said there were two other prolific offenders during the year, which can largely be responsible for an 18 per cent change in property crime in three months of the year.
“Those are the kinds of challenges we’re facing with the justice system,” said Wiebe. “The courts make the decisions, crown has to abide by those decisions, and they fall down to our practices and procedures, and often we’re at odds.”
Mayor Dave Formosa said police are not being supported in BC.
“The citizens, the council and our police system are being let down,” said Formosa. “It’s ridiculous, it’s embarrassing and it’s not fair.”