The current crime level in Chemainus and stretched RCMP resources doesn’t warrant reopening the shuttered police detachment despite some in the North Cowichan community advocating for a larger police presence.
“A detachment that would be able to respond to domestic violence (incidents) in Chemainus with two officers per call would require eight people to cover 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without holidays and training,” Inspector Ray Carfantan told 30 or so residents at a community meeting at the Chemainus Seniors’ Centre earlier this week.
“I’m not saying that’s not a good idea I’m just speaking to the number of police officers that it would take to provide a response in this area….”
On average, the detachment currently receives 55 calls a day, but only four are in Chemainus.
The top call in Chemainus is a traffic complaint, followed by false alarm and “the biggest increase we’ve had in Chemainus is around mental health concerns,” Carfantan told the Chronicle, the latter being up almost 70 per cent over 2015.
He said highway traffic responders are often first to the scene in Chemainus when they are working and on the same radio channel.
“I’m not going to tell you that because they have a specific niche, enforcement on the highways, that we don’t get a benefit from having them here – there is,” he said.
The Duncan/North Cowichan detachment consists of 59 officers, 19 support staff, eight casual clerks, four full-time guards and five casual guards. There’s also a small team of victim services employees and a single restorative justice worker.
In 2016, calls for service jumped 15 per cent to 20,207 calls for service and 1129 charges for criminal offences.
However, 324 of those charges were stayed, 306 are still before the courts and 220, or about 20 per cent, had charges dropped.
“When we presented our evidence to the Crown they deemed that there was no public interest in proceeding with that charge,” Carfantan said.
“That’s the part where I say my people can’t be invested because it’s very frustrating for them. We have to do our job and rely on the courts to do theirs.”
The results of the calls for service increase, as well as illnesses and maternity leaves, have led to scheduling changes so officers are working during peak call times, as well as the temporary suspension of a plain clothes unit.
Duncan/North Cowichan RCMP hosted town halls in Duncan and Crofton last year but this was the first in Chemainus this year after residents expressed concerns to North Cowichan Mayor John Lefebure at a recent town hall.
Lefebure said he hasn’t seen a noticeable increase in crime in Chemainus but also acknowledged that vandalism and break-ins can have a “huge impact” on the community.
He said the RCMP currently have “limited resources” given the increase in call volume but are working on solutions to increase presence in the community.
“With the resources stretched with the number of calls – it’s a difficult thing,” Lefebure said.
“We have to recognize that when somebody’s business is vandalized, or property, it effects them and they would love a policeman right there to stop it.”
North Cowichan’s budget for its RCMP contract increased 6.3 per cent, or $291,945, this year due a 2.5 per cent wage increase as well as overtime.
Chris Istace, President of the Chemainus Business Improvement Area and Chamber of Commerce board member, has had his business Beyond the Usual on Willow Street burglarized several times in the last few years and a theft just last month.
“Just last month, people came to the store, three of them, loaded up their bags and ran out. I had to chase them down…. it was actually two days before the police came,” he said.
Residents met in groups as part of the two hour meeting to discuss policing priorities around community relations, violence and domestic abuse, aboriginal police and prolific offender management and traffic enforcement.
Carfantan said the meeting is an opportunity to discuss policing priorities and what residents’ expectations are moving forward into the new fiscal year, which begins on April 1.
“We try to draw on the collective wisdom of the group to come with new ideas that are relevant to the community,” he said.
Duncan/North Cowichan officers are encouraged to spend 35 minutes of each 12 hour shift as “pro active” time when they might visit Chemainus to patrol a hot spot.
Hot spots, or areas that police receive three to four calls for service, was an idea put forward last year.
“There are definitely some officers who do that and we definitely talk about the sensitivities around Chemainus and policing,” Carfantan said.
One resident said he thought the RCMP’s bike patrols were effective at demonstrating a police presence in Chemainus and should be continued.
“I think that’s the presence that we miss in this community,” he said.
“It’s a number a situation but I still think if we could get people somehow in this community for a few hours a day, walking the street, and just getting out and talking with the general public it would make one big difference.”
Lefebure said they’ll keep working to manage the crime levels but it’s also key that people report incidents to police.
“It is important for people to call the police so that there’s a record of what really happened,” he said. “That’s the only way that we really know that there’s a problem here and it’s getting worse, or we need to allocate more resources.”