Columbia Valley Pioneer Staff

Lawbreakers in the Columbia Valley haven’t taken a summer break, but the RCMP’s call volume is down, according to a quarterly report presented to the District of Invermere on August 8.

In a delegation to council, acting Sgt. Jeff Witzke said the RCMP responded to 871 calls for service in the first quarter of 2023 (April to June), compared to 941 calls during the first quarter of 2022. In 2021 the detachment received 992 calls.

The report indicates that calls within the Invermere area accounted for approximately 23 per cent (202 in the first quarter, compared to 238 during the same period last year).

When at full strength, the detachment consists of one sergeant, two corporals, eight constables, three administrative staff, and one victim services worker.

Witzke said they said goodbye to Cst. Henneberry, who had been with the detachment for about five years. They have welcomed Cst. McMillan, a three-year member who was recently posted to Creston. And back from maternity leave is Cst. Tracz.

Witzke pointed out the new detachment commander is Sgt. Ed DeJong.

In his presentation, Witzke outlined the detachment’s priorities, which include road safety, crime reduction, mental health/employee wellness, and community relations.

Road safety 

In the past three months numerous violation tickets have been issued along with approximately 10  excessive speeding violations, several of which have been within Kootenay National Park. Witzke said these violators are issued a court date and their vehicles are impounded for seven days. 

“The focus moving forward into the summer months will be to maintain visibility on the highway and roadways as well as to roadblocks to check for impaired drivers.”

Witzke noted this year’s objective includes having some of the new members trained on laser and radar techniques as well as conducting more joint operations with BC Highway Patrol.

Property crime 

Witzke said their main strategies for reducing crime are law enforcement, community and situational prevention. 

“Here in the valley the members have done an excellent job at keeping on top of our prolific or repeat offenders when it comes to offences such as property crime,” he stated. “However, we would like to have a more collaborative, proactive approach within the community that could prevent some offences from happening altogether.”

Witzke said this could be done by way of information sharing on topics such as fraud awareness or crime prevention through environmental design. “Simple messaging regarding locking up vehicles and taking the valuables out can significantly reduce theft from vehicles,” he pointed out. 

Witzke said the detachment would like to seek input from community leaders on how to best present on these topics. For example, a town hall meeting or messaging on signs around town or via radio or social media.

Mental health

Witzke noted the detachment continues to be part of a “wellness collaborative” group, which is in the midst of getting the proper training required to establish a “Situation Table” for vulnerable people in the valley. Many communities such as Kelowna and Penticton have set up these “hubs” to rapidly connect people in crises to services before they experience a negative or traumatic event, such as victimization, overdose or homelessness. In the long term, this reduces the demand on emergency services and police resources. In many incidences, law enforcement officers find themselves dealing with individuals on a mental health basis as opposed to a criminal basis.       Regarding the mental health of RCMP members in the valley, Witzke said they have one member and a victim services worker trained in critical incident stress management (CISM), along with several members in neighbouring detachments. When stressful incidents occur, debriefings are offered to affected members. 

“The Columbia Valley detachment is very committed to the wellness of its employees. Overall, the morale within the detachment continues to be high,” Witzke stated. He noted that work/life balance is a priority and every effort is made to ensure that all members get adequate time off. Officers are encouraged and reminded to take time to unwind with their families. 

“The RCMP is taking positive steps to address the growing need to nurture a psychologically healthy and safe workplace,” Witzke said. This includes programs such as Peer to Peer, Employee Assistance service, stress injury programs, and CISM.

Community relations

Witzke reported the detachment continues to be engaged with the community by attending as many events as possible, on and off duty. During the first quarter, members presented to the Grade 6 and 7 class at JA Laird Elementary School on drug awareness and bullying. At David Thompson Secondary School, they attended a lockdown drill and law class debates. Officers also attended the Bike Rodeo and Fun Day at Eileen Madson Primary School, as well as the Grade 7 year-end barbecue in Edgewater. Witzke said members presented to an elders group on fraud awareness and prevention, presented at the annual minor hockey awards night, marched in the annual Grad March, and even served hamburgers and fries at the McDonalds drive-thru in support of McHappy Day. 

In addition, several boat patrols have already been made with plenty of safety education being provided, Witzke pointed out.

Mayor Al Miller said he feels confident with the work the RCMP are doing. 

“We are also very thankful we are at full manpower. Some communities are not so fortunate.”

Miller noted that one of the key issues the RCMP face is the lack of good cell service in the region. 

“In the parks it’s a guessing game as to what to expect as the communication is very weak at best. Our service providers need to step up their game in the Columbia Valley and park areas,” said Miller, who added that more cell towers would make a big difference to the quality of service that people expect.