By Eric Stubbs
I believe it’s important to respond to the report released by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, (BCCLA), as it relates to the workshops held here in Terrace.
The contents of the report are quite serious and may have a significant impact on the psyche of both the community and the police officers that work to keep Terrace a safe community to live in.
It’s difficult for me to comment on the specific allegations contained in the report as the author, Mr. David Eby, states “…not been able…to follow up and verify or disprove allegations made in this report.” There are no names of complainants, officer’s names or dates of when these actions may have occurred.
The police were not allowed to participate in the meeting to hear first hand what the concerns of the attendees were.
In the days following the meeting, I spoke at length with Mr. Eby and explained to him some of our strategies and approaches to dealing with the downtown core and our chronic offenders. None of this was included in the report.
Mr. Eby did not offer any further information or details that would assist me in looking into his concerns.
I’m not disregarding all of the contents of the BCCLA report. The RCMP is always looking for feedback and with feedback comes change. This BCCLA report is feedback and I will examine it closely.
However, I do know some of the accounts are inaccurate and, in fact, false. Having said that, we’ve made mistakes in the past and undoubtedly will in the future.
Policing is not a science and when you continuously deal with people who are experiencing difficulty in their lives, some outcomes are not ideal.
One of the allegations that is particularly concerning is that the officers are unfairly treating or targeting aboriginal people.
I don’t quite know how to respond to this claim. I can’t hide the fact that a large percentage of our clients are First Nations people.
As is described below, we target individuals based on their behaviour, not their race.
The day after the BCCLA report was released, a native male attended our office to speak with me. We have arrested him on a number of occasions in the past few years for various offences that included public intoxication.
He was frustrated when he read the BCCLA report. He felt it was unfair as our officers had treated him with respect at all times. He said that when he was handcuffed and went to jail, “I deserved it.” Recently, two members were on foot patrol, stopped to talk to him and commented how much healthier he appeared. He was amazed that they noticed and took the time to chat with him.
What I can comment on is the direction that this detachment has taken in the past two years. In 2008, I received constant feedback from business owners, the public, elected officials, and our own members about the deteriorating conditions in the downtown core.
Daily, the public would witness or be the victim of various acts of criminal behavior, disturbances, intoxication, drug use and theft.
The police had little impact on quelling these activities as we would simply react to a call for service, make an arrest and leave the area.
There was little or no proactive work being completed by police. Community members would tell me that they did not feel safe going to George Little Park for lunch or with their kids to the playground.
One business owner relayed to me that during the day she was uncomfortable walking to the bank to drop off a cash deposit.
It was obvious to me that we needed to develop a strategy to gain control of the downtown core.
I want to be very clear in describing some of the prolific offenders that our police officers are dealing with in Terrace. Keep in mind, in 2009, Stats Canada released a Crime Severity Index that ranked Terrace as the 13th most violent community in Canada.
Daily, our members deal with violent individuals that have addiction and/or mental health issues. They have little or no respect for the law, the police, or the community that they live in.
Their primary goal is to obtain drugs and/or alcohol by whatever means possible. Once obtained and consumed, they are often in the public causing disturbances and breaking the law. A lot of these people had a routine of doing what they want, where they want, in the downtown core. To stop this daily behavior, we had to have a sustained presence in the area.
In response, we created a Crime Reduction Unit (CRU) that has a mandate to patrol the downtown core and target those chronic offenders that cause the community the most concern and the police the most calls for service.
When we target some of these chronic offenders, it’s based on their behavior. To qualify, most offenders involved have had a minimum of 50 negative contacts with police. Most had well over 100 with some, well over 200 files where they are carded on the police records system as a suspect or charged with an offence.
When the unit started its work in April 2009, the two members had a daunting task in front of them. They successfully targeted some of the worst offenders in the community.
In April 2010, the CRU was increased to four members and we were able to have a sustained presence in the downtown core in order to ensure public safety.
This work is very difficult and the members faced unenviable circumstances. Some of these violent offenders kick, punch and spit at the officers. Others are passed out drunk, lying in their own vomit and have defecated in their pants.
Despite the behaviours of some of these people, I demand that our officers treat people with respect and act within the parameters of the law.
Their consistent work has resulted in very good results. Calls for service in the downtown core have decreased by an impressive 47 per cent. The calls to George Little Park, have decreased 90 per cent.
Overall, our calls for service in all areas is down by more than 20 per cent.
Statistics don’t always tell the story. When I drive by George Little Park in the summer and see people having their lunch and families in the playground, I know we’ve got results.
The CRU message to the chronic offenders is consistent. First, we encourage all the offenders to cease their criminal and disruptive behavior.
If they continue to break the law, they will be charged. Our goal is to stop crime from being committed.
It is clear in the BCCLA report that some of these chronic offenders are not pleased with our strategy of improving safety in the downtown core.
We are disrupting a lifestyle and routine that many have participated in for years.
Some of these offenders have moved away from Terrace. They have not been, “kicked out,” or issued, “get out of town” orders. They have come to realize that their behavior is no longer tolerated in Terrace.
There have been successes with some prolific offenders that we’ve dealt with in the past two years. In 2008, one male had 88 files involving police. In 2010, only 24 incidents. While the male still struggles at times with his addictions, he’s improved his quality of life a great deal.
It should be noted that we have worked with other agencies in an effort to keep our homeless people safe, as they are often the victims of assaults and robberies.
Succumbing to the elements is also a real threat as we’ve had two homeless males found deceased in the bushes in recent years.
We have been a big supporter of the damp shelter run by the K’San House Society and will often drop off intoxicated people at the Hall Street location. We’ve also sat on the chronic alcoholic committee and supported a program that offered our prisoners being released the opportunity to seek treatment for their addictions.
I’m proud of the officers and employees at this detachment that work hard every day and night to make this a safe community to live in. I sense that the overwhelming majority of Terrace citizens believe in what we’re trying to accomplish and hear that support daily.
I welcome any input or feedback from the community as to how we can make our community a safer place to live.
To the people of Terrace, our commitment is to keep you safe. To our chronic offenders, our officers will treat you with respect and within the parameters of the law.
I encourage you to seek help and make efforts to stop your harmful and destructive behavior.
Inspector Eric Stubbs is the commanding officer of the Terrace RCMP detachment. This article was written in response to “Small Town Justice,” the report by the BC Civil Liberties Association, which can be read on www.terracestandard.com by referring to the headline, “Police won’t tolerate criminal behaviour.”