In praise of Officer Scarecrow 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY JOEL BARDE
  • Photo by Joel Barde

As some Pemberton residents recently learned, the Pemberton RCMP's newest recruit has gone missing.

"Please return Officer Scarecrow!" a concerned citizen wrote on the Pemberton community forum Facebook group. "His job is to keep our kids safe and that's no joke ... Please return him to work." (A later post that said he has been returned is bogus.)

Officer Scarecrow looks a little different than the average recruit. He's forged out of a piece of aluminum and abnormally tall; he looks particularly stern, focusing his radar gun at anyone and everyone.

Speaking to Pemberton council during its bi-annual update on crime statistics and policing initiatives, Cpl. Mike Hamilton of the Pemberton RCMP and Insp. Kara Triance explained that Officer Scarecrow would be deployed as a cost-effective way to reduce incidents of speeding.

At around $300, the cutouts (the detachment purchased two such officers) are worth trying out, as they have proven effective in the Lower Mainland, they explained.

In an email to Pique, Hamilton said Officer Scarecrow was stolen from a problem section of Highway 99 near One Mile Lake on Feb. 28.

It's an area of special concern for the police and council, as it is a hub of activity; families bike and walk along the shoulder of the highway on their way to and from One Mile Lake Park.

To keep people safe, the speed drops from 80 km/h to 60 km/h. But it's easy to miss the signage change, especially for those unfamiliar with the area.

When policing the area, police officers see drivers going at least 30 km/h over the speed limit every five to 10 minutes, explained Hamilton.

To help address the problem, Pemberton RCMP began placing Officer Scarecrow near the parking lot for One Mile Lake in an effort to slow down northbound traffic.

According to Hamilton, the tactic proved successful. On two occasions, officers (sentient ones) clocked driver speed further down the highway, near Pemberton, and noticed a reduction in speeding.

"The result? No motorists were driving over 10 km/h" when Officer Scarecrow was posted, relayed Hamilton. "This speaks volumes to its efficacy in a light-hearted yet very effective manner."

This corresponds to the experience in Coquitlam, which piloted the Officer Scarecrow initiative in B.C.

In a November 2018 press conference, Cpl. Michael McLaughlin of the Coquitlam RCMP explained that the detachment was seeing impressive success, with its presence cutting the number of drivers travelling more than 10 km/h on a busy stretch of highway by half.

The reduction for those travelling at more than 30 km/h was even more dramatic—a 70 per cent drop.

"As far as we're concerned, he's more than earned a one-year contract extension," said McLaughlin.

Driving from Whistler to Pemberton last week, I ran into Officer Scarecrow for the first time while crossing the bridge over Rutherford Creek. It was, quite frankly, terrifying, prompting me to jam on my brakes even though I wasn't speeding.

Even with this column percolating in my head, Officer Scarecrow appeared frighteningly real, and I feared I was about to get into some hot water: It's not every day you see a giant police officer standing on the side of the highway.

While I'm not sure placing him in a zone where people will be reacting on a bridge is the right call, one has to hand it to the Pemberton RCMP, whose newest recruit is utterly devoted to his role.

According to Hamilton, Pemberton RCMP is "remaining positive that the stolen Officer Scarecrow will be returned," so that he can "help remind motorists to slow down and possibly even prevent a major traffic-related tragedy."

Like Hamilton, I'm hoping that Officer Scarecrow makes it home.

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