It took a while to get used to policing a resort community, recalled local RCMP Staff Sergeant Hilton Haider.
When he arrived here in the spring of 2000 he soon realized that work in Whistler would be a far cry from the homicides, sex assaults and robberies that had crossed his Maple Ridge desk when he was in charge of the serious crime unit.
Instead, as commander of Whistlers RCMP detachment for the past four years, Haider has been in charge of the safety and security of tourists and troublemakers, ski bums and stars, Olympic dignitaries and foreign ministers from around the world. He has also had to oversee all of the ordinary concerns and complaints that come from policing a small community of 10,000.
"The challenge of resort policing was something that took a bit of trying to get used to," recalled Haider.
"It is a different policing style."
Next month Haider is trading in resort policing and going back to the big city, where he will be in charge of operations at the Ridge Meadows RCMP detachment.
The staff sergeant reflected candidly on his time in Whistler with Piques Alison Taylor this week. He talked about the accomplishments since 2000 as well as those issues that still remain unresolved. He also talked about the road ahead.
Pique:Why did you feel it was time to move on?
Haider: First of all, Whistler is a limited duration posting. Our people come here and its a four-year posting so we commit to four years. I could have extended another year (but) for personal reasons, family reasons, my wife and I wanted to go back to the Lower Mainland. We would have stayed if the circumstances were right. In some respects I would have liked to have stayed right through until the end of the Olympics. I saw it from the beginning and I would have just liked to see it through to the end. However, there are family commitments, parents that are getting quite elderly and youre that much further away from them (in Whistler) .
Financially its (also) an expensive community to live in. Im getting paid the same when I work down there but the cost of living is somewhat lower.
I guess maybe, it was time for a change as well. The workload here is quite enduring Its just a go-go-go campaign all the time. Its just relentless.
Pique:What would you say has been your biggest accomplishment as commander of the Whistler detachment?
Haider:I think the biggest accomplishment here is creating our community partnerships. I think theres a degree of success with those. The partnership with the municipality of course has always been there (but I worked on) strengthening the partnership with Whistler-Blackcomb and bringing a lot of the other groups into a working partnership, for instance the food and beverage association, the accommodation sector, the commercial core, the transportation sector. You know a police service is only as strong as the support it gets from its community. You can have the best police officers in the world in a police service but if you dont get support from your community, youre not going to be a very effective police service. One of the things that I feel that there has been an accomplishment is having a better relationship with our community groups.
Pique:Are there any things you wished youd had more time to work on?
Haider:One of the greatest challenges in this community is the noise and, at times, the high risk we have for violence in our village with some of these groups that are attracted here in the off seasons.
Its the off season that draws this less desirable group who come here only to abuse the community.
I think thats one of our great challenges. Its very, very difficult to do any type of a problem solving . We cant do traditional problem solving. If youre in a non-resort community and you have a particular problem with a clientele group, you can go and meet them and work with that clientele group and get them to either stop it or change their ways or do whatever. But here its new faces each day that are creating the problems. Thats where the challenge is. Weve taken that zero tolerance with alcohol I think theres some decline in our calls for service. Theres still a lot of noise but then were a resort and the dynamics of the community, the way the community was built, makes it tough to eliminate the noise.
When you have 1,500 people exiting bars on a Saturday night within a one block radius, youve got a lot of noise. And its difficult for people to tolerate that.
Weve tried various strategies. Some strategies have been successful and some weve had to revisit.
Pique:What policing challenges are unique to Whistler?
Haider:Our tourist accommodation is sometimes difficult to deal with because we have a lot of incidents that happen in our tourist accommodation. We have a difficult time investigating break ins and thefts and vandalism and noise because we have such a large group of bed rentals. Sometimes we only find out about it a couple of days after the fact and then we have to go track down people that are all over the world. Thats the resort policing challenge that is very difficult to deal with.
We find a lot of our investigations where we have a potential for laying charges that we dont lay charges because our witnesses and sometimes our victims are international and they just dont want to come back. Thats the nature of the beast.
Pique:First Night 2000 was described as a "near riot." Tell me how its changed over the past four years under your leadership.
Haider:The first First Night was my first one here. We had a commitment from the municipality to take a zero tolerance and turn that around from previous years where it was a just drunk-fest basically with noise and parties and open drinking everywhere. The liability for serious injury was very, very high .
We took the zero tolerance approach to it and yes we arrested 106 people. I think the report of a "near riot" was erroneous. It was quite hectic theres no doubt about it the disposal of liquor that year was quite high. I think weve turned a corner on that.
The other objective of the municipality was to make it a family event I think this year proved it was a very enjoyable event.
I think thats one of our successes that I can say took place while I was here.
Pique:What will you miss most about the job and your life in Whistler?
Haider: I think Ill miss the type of energy that I see come through the door everyday with all our young people. The energy of the community, especially when you get into the peak times during the ski season. I will miss that, the hustle-bustle, the fast pace.
Pique:What are you looking forward to in your new role as head of operations at the Ridge Meadows detachment?
Haider:Some new challenges. Its like anything else. If youre not challenged, youre not enjoying what you do I sort of look at myself as an old teacher because Ive been around so long.
I enjoy working with young people and its not going to change that much for me going down there. I will still see a lot of new faces and young energy.
Itll be a different style of policing of course because itll be a non-resort community.
Youre dealing with a more diverse community where Whistler is very unique as a community. Down there its more of a traditional community. Youve got the poverty issues. Youve got family violence issues, which we dont have here. You have other issues in schools with kids, and you have to deal with your high-risk offenders, which we dont see openly here.
Pique: What advice would you give for your successor, Norm McPhail?
Haider: My successor thats coming has been here before so hes going to be very, very aware of the community. Hes going to be aware of the issues. I think its essential for whoever comes in here that you have to establish and maintain your community partnerships.