By Vivian Moreau
Wearing regulation pants, shirt, tie, and ballistic vest equipped with pepper spray and nightstick Andrew Smith looks every inch the police officer. But standing outside the Whistler RCMP detachment Feb. 7 after being sworn in as an auxiliary officer Smith, 21, takes a playful congratulatory shoulder jab when he tells buddies he gets to keep his carefully trimmed beard. It’s a reminder of how professional and yet how young auxiliary constables can be.
The same scenario plays out when Patricia Epplett, 23, remarks that one of her first challenges as an auxiliary officer will be to get her pants tailored to fit her 5’1” frame.
Epplett, Smith and two other officers sworn in last week bring Whistler’s auxiliary roster to seven.
Auxiliary officers are volunteers. They complete 100 hours of classroom and defensive training in order to be able to work a minimum of 10 hours a month alongside a regular RCMP officer. Although they don’t carry guns, they are allowed to make arrests, a situation they might run into while policing Whistler’s many public events or patrolling traffic.
Epplett, a detachment support staffer, said working as an auxiliary officer will help her with career decisions.
“I wanted to get an understanding of what frontline policing was really like… before I make the jump and go to Regina for six months,” she said.
Smith already has a two-year college diploma in policing and was an Ontario Provincial Police auxiliary officer before moving to Whistler in 2005.
The four new officers are part of a ramped up drive to bolster the RCMP’s Whistler-Pemberton detachment, said spokesperson Ann-Marie Gallup.
“We hope to generate interest from the community and train a couple more so with the Olympics coming up we have some extra members ready to go,” Gallup said after the ceremony that about 30 friends, family and both on and off duty police officers attended at Whistler’s emergency services building.
In addition to fresh auxiliary officers, the RCMP launched a Whistler recruiting drive for regular members. The force is losing about 500 officers a year to retirement from its 18,000 members and at the same time is trying to bolster numbers in anticipation of the Olympics and to have a heightened presence around the world, according to a recruiting officer. Cst. Darwin Tetreault said the force needs an “unprecedented” number of recruits, with targets to hire 1,457 this year, 2,000 next year and 2,340 in 2009.
Recent ads in both Whistler papers are an attempt to catch the eye of Whistler’s young demographic. Tetreault will be in Whistler for recruiting information sessions Feb. 16 and 17 at Spruce Grove Fieldhouse. He said it’s not so far fetched to look to draw new recruits from Whistler’s feisty snowboard community.
“People that work in Whistler in the winter are highly motivated, they’re in our target demographic, they’re in good physical condition and are typically well-educated,” Tetreault said from his Vancouver office. Tetreault said he’s been to Whistler and doesn’t believe in the snowboarder bad-boy image.
“They’re good, honest, hard-working, tax-paying people,” he said. “They’re the kind of people we want inside the force.”
New recruits make $43,000 a year to start. After six months training at the force’s national centre in Regina salaries rise to $52,000 per year, with a further jump to $72,000 annually after three years of service.