An effective police force needs to reflect the needs of the people it serves, and in the rapidly changing communities of the Sea to Sky, that means the RCMP needs to be nimble enough to adapt in lockstep with them.
“There’s no doubt that Whistler is growing and absolutely no doubt that Squamish is exploding,” Whistler and Pemberton commander Sgt. Sascha Banks told Whistler elected officials this week. “That rapidly affects the highways, the way we do business and it affects the day-to-day of what happens.”
The Sea to Sky RCMP, which encompasses the detachments of Whistler, Pemberton, Squamish and Bowen Island, presented its three-year strategic plan on Tuesday, Sept. 7, an ambitious, far-reaching vision that was informed in part by local stakeholders, crime analysis trends, and a public survey that garnered close to 1,000 responses.
Bolstered by five key pillars—enhanced public safety; accountability and good governance; organizational excellence; community engagement and collaborative partnerships; and innovation and engaging change—the plan itself reflects the shifting role of the RCMP in a society reckoning with police’s use of force and its mistreatment of marginalized groups.
“Policing is changing internationally,” said Sea to Sky Officer-in-Charge Insp. Robert Dykstra. “There is a lot of debate about what it is we actually are, and in the end, we have a role to play in the community but whatever we do has to be compassionate. That’s really critical to me in terms of our mission.”
To that end, and with both police and local social services noting an uptick in need for mental-health support throughout the pandemic, Mounties are working on the development of a liaison position in the next three years that would designate a specific member to work alongside a certified mental health worker. Modelled in part on a similar program in Surrey called Car 67, it would see the member working with a clinical nurse to provide onsite emotional and mental health assessments, crisis intervention and referrals to appropriate services.
“These conversations have actually already started in Whistler with myself and Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) as well as Whistler Community Services. They are very much onboard with this,” Banks said, noting that the position would be funded by VCH, “although we are looking at creating something that might be able to support it before VCH comes up with that funding.”
Banks also discussed putting greater emphasis on a restorative justice model that she said “absolutely” needs to be implemented in Whistler and Pemberton. Focusing on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large that, in B.C., is set up and run by third-party agencies, Banks said it can be “extremely effective if done appropriately and can provide closure for those who are victims of crime.”
The Sea to Sky RCMP is striving to beef up its intelligence capabilities, with a number of initiatives on tap.
“To police the old way of driving around the neighbourhood and think you’re going to decrease crime, well, that’s long gone. That’s the days of CHiPs and blue-and-white police cars. We just can’t do policing in that way anymore,” Banks said.
One “pressing need” identified by Banks is the addition of a specially trained crime analyst position that would contribute to a prolific offender database and identify criminal trends “before we can even see them ourselves.”
Also in the works is an “inadmissible patron program/bar-watch” in Whistler that “mainly has to do with individuals who are in the gang life,” Banks explained. First launched by the Vancouver Police Department, there are also similar programs in Surrey, Westshore and Kelowna, and Banks said she has already discussed it with the municipality and local bar and club operator, the Gibbons Hospitality Group.
“We want to see how we can affect this program and if it works within the community, to try and get ahead of dealing with individuals in the community that are gang members that cause a risk to public safety,” added Banks.
The initiative would also involve bringing Mounties in specialized gang units up from the Lower Mainland to assist with training and identifying known gang members.
An initiative that is likely to come to fruition soon is a Sea to Sky Community Response Unit, which Banks described as a “parachute team” that would come to the corridor to deal with specific challenges. She noted their mandate would include working with youth and traffic enforcement.
Always a pressing issue in the Sea to Sky, Mounties have plans to enhance traffic enforcement through a variety of measures.
Speeding and distracted driving in particular are two risk factors local police intend to crack down on even further over the next three years.
“When we looked at our survey, the problem that people believed was in the Sea to Sky corridor—and I don’t disagree with them—was speed and distracted driving. You’d think it would be impaired driving, but it’s not,” Banks said. “It’s something that we get consistent complaints about and it’s something that you’ll see the [BC Highway Patrol] impounding 10 cars for excessive speed in a day on the Sea to Sky [Highway].”
Banks added that police intend to deepen their understanding of problem areas by reviewing collision data. The RCMP is also looking to procure two automatic licence plate readers to aid in enforcement.
One of the most consistent requests in the RCMP’s recent public survey was to improve enforcement on thefts from vehicles in the backcountry, an issue that has only increased with the pandemic-fuelled recreation boom.
“We need to come up with either a bait vehicle program or some location in the community that people can keep their effects while they’re away for three days hiking in the backcountry,” Banks said. “That’s something that other communities have put into place where they have lockers in a secure location to keep their items.”
Given the proliferation of backcountry enthusiasts—Banks said police metrics showed a 900-per-cent increase in trail usage this summer in the Sea to Sky—police are also looking to beef up their training and create two search-and-rescue liaison positions.
Pique will have more from the RCMP’s strategic plan in future weeks.