Catching the culprit who cut the Sea to Sky Gondola remains the top priority for the Squamish RCMP, said Staff Sgt. Gareth Bradley, during the RCMP’s annual report to council on Tuesday, May 25.
“My [General Investigations Support] team was also busy with the gondola being cut for the second time, which has impacted the community as a whole, and the members who are continually working on that right now,” Bradley said. “It is a priority for them. It is their number one file that they are working on.”
Inspector Robert Dykstra was also present for the report to the committee of the whole meeting, which went over crime stat highlights from 2020.
Squamish RCMP’s jurisdiction stretches from Lions Bay to the Big Orange Bridge north of town.
The region saw 313 criminal charges laid last year, which ranged from serious assaults, threats, frauds, impaired driving, and serious motor vehicle collisions.
“Just to name a few,” Bradley said.
There were 600 so-called “Priority 1 calls,” in 2020, which means emergencies where officers needed to use lights and sirens to attend to call.
That is an increase of 18% over 2019.
In the last year, victim services saw 151 new victim-services referrals.
“As an average, there’s about 70 to 80 open files in any given month because of the different processes they go through — some might be court-related, some might not be,” Bradley said.
There was an 11% increase in missing person files with 91 in 2020 and 82 in 2019.
“With more people recreating to the area, accessing the backcountry, we’ve had an increase in that,” Bradley said.
He noted there were several major searches for missing persons, including the search for Daniel Reoch, who went missing in November of 2019.
“We want to bring some light toward... that search as it is ongoing,” he said.
The search for Darcy Wild, who went missing in the fall of 2020, has also been substantial.
These searches have included hundreds of volunteers from the community and the help of local search and rescue teams, as well as agencies from outside Squamish.
“These files are currently open and if anybody has any information, we encourage them to contact the police,” Bradley said.
Common assaults were up 63% in 2020 over 2019, to 142 incidents. There were 87 such crimes in 2019.
“The assaults, it is a significant change, and we have had an increase in visitors to the area, which has driven some of that, some of that is going to be COVID-related and all the stresses that come along with that,” he said.
Sexual offences were down 38% overall to 28 in 2020, from 45 in 2019. Sexual assaults dropped to 10 in 2020, from 22 in 2019.
However, intimate partner violence stats were up 50% to 81 in 2020, from 54 in 2019.
This increase mirrors what folks who work with survivors of violence, such as the Howe Sound Women’s Centre have been saying as the pandemic droned on and the need for services increased.
Recorded incidents of uttering threats were up 84% in 2020, which saw 90 such cases.
There were four recorded robberies and the same number of kidnappings in Squamish in 2020.
Bradley noted that the way crime stats are recorded has changed, which will pump up some percentages. Prior to 2019, only offences that were proven to have occurred were included. From January 2019 forward, the stats include crimes where there was no credible evidence that it did not occur. Thus an increase in crime statistics is to be expected for assaults, sexual assaults and uttering threats.
Mental health incidents
There has been a 23% increase in mental health “flags,” with 404 mental health incidents recorded in 2020 versus 328 in 2019.
Mental health flags include wellness checks or if someone has called a suicide hotline, among other calls, Bradley explained.
“There’s a lot of external stressors through the pandemic, which have increased our member’s response and we have partnered with our mental health clinicians in the corridor, which has been a priority for the detachment,” he said, adding RCMP have undergone de-escalation training.
Fraud up in pandemic
Fraud was up 23%, with 171 incidents recorded in 2020 and 139 recorded in 2019.
“Fraud was up significantly, with CRA scams — I am sure everybody has had a couple of those on their phones — leading the way,” he said. “We’ve worked really hard with our local businesses to have checks and balances in place, because these victims will go into a store and buy several thousand dollars worth of various cards and then provide the pins — once that pin is gone, the money is gone as well.”
Bradley noted these cases are hard to track because the perpetrator is usually overseas.
“It is important to stop that process as it happens. We have had several successes and we’ve identified that as a priority for some of the businesses in town.”
Drugs down and up
Drug possession offences are down 26% overall over the last few years as cannabis was legalized.
Drug trafficking, however, is up 80% to 36 recorded cases in 2020, from 20 the year before.
In terms of property crime, the RCMP noted that auto and bike thefts were both down slightly, with 27 auto thefts recorded in 2020, compared to 32 in 2019 — a reduction of 16%; and, 49 bike thefts in 2020, versus 50 in 2019.
Break-and-enters were up 26% for businesses but down for residential properties (29 business B&Es in 2020, versus 23 in 2019; 25 home B&Es in 2020, versus 37 in 2019).
Collisions were down 14% overall from 173 in 2020 and 201 in 2019.
“Which is always fantastic,” Bradley said. “Probably supported by commuters not travelling to the city on the roadways.”
Bradley noted a few times during his report that the increase in visitors to the region is putting pressure on resources for the RCMP and other agency partners.
The May long weekend was very busy in the Squamish Valley, Bradley said.
There were reports of five unattended fires, one that looked like it was intentionally set and abandoned, Bradley said.
“The amount of people in the valley this weekend was probably three-fold the normal amount of people,” he said. “Some of the local officers who have been up there a long time with forestry conservation were pretty beside themselves with how many people who were up there this weekend.”
Going forward, the RCMP, among other plans, aims to increase backcountry and seasonal hotspot policing, Bradley said.
“That sticks out for me, especially after this weekend. I have never seen that many people up in the Squamish Valley in our backcountry. It is a growing phenomenon and people need to take care out there,” he said.
“It is very concerning for us and we are looking to accurately and adequately support that, not just on long weekends, but in between weekends for the summer season.