In an unusual move, S/Sgt. Cliff Doherty and Sgt. Colin Worth met with Squamish Council this week and gave council an update on police operations.
The RCMP appearance before council was triggered by a letter of complaint that was sent to Premier Gordon Campbell and copied to Mayor Ian Sutherland and the RCMP.
The letter was written by a downtown resident shaken by an incident that happened in the early morning hours of Sunday (Jan. 18).
According to Worth, the complainant was awakened when a drunken young female entered her home. The homeowner confronted the drunk and asked her to leave.
The unidentified letter writer indicated that the police arrived quickly and located the young woman in a nearby alley.
Worth said the letter started off complimentary, but did not maintain that tone throughout.
"We are not turning a blind eye to our problems in Squamish and we are very concerned about the trends we are seeing, particularly in the downtown core," Worth told council. "As a detachment of the RCMP all of us reside here in the community so it very much is a problem for us as residents of the community."
Worth explained that there is a perception that crime is up when in fact he said that crime statistics for 2003 indicate that, overall, crime is down compared to 2002.
"What is up are property crimes, substantially," he said.
Worth said much of the increase can be linked to people who are looking for easy cash to support a drug habit.
He explained to council that marijuana charges are down compared to last year. The stats are down because the police aren't enforcing the laws as strictly. Recent court decisions on marijuana cases make it more difficult to prosecute marijuana cases.
"While marijuana charges are down, cocaine charges are up," Worth said. The number of cocaine possession charges went from eight in 2002 up to 14 in 2003. The number of cocaine trafficking charges also went up over the 12-month period.
Charges relating to the possession of crystal meth jumped from just one in 2002 up to 19 in 2003.
Worth reported that the RCMP in Squamish dealt with an increased number of child welfare matters and mental health files in the year just past.
Part of the reason property and drug related statistics are up relates to unemployment and a reduction in government services, Worth said. He and Doherty specifically pointed to the closure of the courthouse in Squamish and the closure of the provincial social assistance office.
In an attempt to address policing issues in Squamish, Worth said the police have a number of initiatives and programs.
"The civilian crime prevention officer hired by council is working to bring a downtown storefront police operation," Worth said. "We submitted a proposal through the provincial government for two more members and will make a request of council soon."
The detachment is also working on a coordinated crime prevention strategy.
The mayor said the letter led to the RCMP being placed on the meeting agenda; however Squamish's top lawmaker cautioned that Squamish isn't the only town around dealing with crime issues.
"We don't want to panic," Sutherland said. "We don't want headlines blazing that Squamish is the new crime capital of Canada and that it isn't safe to walk on Cleveland Avenue after dark.
"We are working on solutions. I think a downtown storefront is an excellent step."
Coun. Dave Fenn asked if the problems are being caused more by local residents or transients."Six to eight months ago, lots of new people moved to our community," Doherty said. "There's a lack of social housing and a lack of welfare. They brought with them an increase in property crime and that is why we are seeing a spike right now."
"This community needs to mobilize against this problem," Worth said.
Sutherland indicated that one step being looked at is the creation of a recreation facility under RCMP control at the new detachment building, which is going to be ready for occupancy in mid-March.