Despite a small turnout at Thursday evening’s RCMP Town Hall meeting, local police managed to discuss a wide range of policing issues.
The event was held at Whistler Secondary School from 6 until 8 p.m., with members of the local RCMP detachment present to outline their policing priorities for the current year.
Inspector Norm McPhail chaired the meeting, with the assistance of Constable Afzeel Yakub, and Staff Sergeants Steve LeClair and Guy Pollack.
Insp. McPhail described the meeting as a council initiative to get feedback and ideas, and to address concerns of the public.
While there are currently 81 RCMP members in the Sea to Sky corridor — including 31 in Whistler and Pemberton, 28 in Squamish, three on Bowen Island, eight plain clothes officers who work throughout the corridor, and 10 St’at’imc Tribal Police — McPhail said he has requested 10 additional officers for the entire region.
“Policing is an expensive endeavor,” McPhail explained, adding that they have attempted to bolster their numbers with volunteer auxiliary constables.
McPhail also acknowledged that, “Whistler itself is a very unique environment,” explaining while statistics show the town has the highest crime rate in the province, that number is calculated based on resident population, which is approximately 10,000, and does not account for seasonal residents and visitors.
McPhail says he is working with the province to resolve this and ensure Whistler crime rates are accurately reflected in statistics.
The inspector identified four central priorities for 2007: drug and substance abuse, traffic, property crime and aboriginal analysis.
Statistics presented at Thursday’s meeting were compiled on a per day basis, as the current fiscal year does not come to an end until spring.
Based on information currently available, drug possession charges have increased slightly this year, though Const. Yakub said this increase may simply reflect the detachment’s recent focus on reduced drug-related crime.
At the same time, statistics also showed a slight reduction in drug trafficking.
Since all of the local communities are linked by one stretch of highway, McPhail pointed out that the police have to be especially vigilant about keeping the road safe, and acknowledged that they have not been successful in the Pemberton area, with at least nine deaths caused by driver error so far this year.
RCMP are trying to address these road safety issues by educating the public and setting up roadblocks.
One audience member criticized recent roadblocks, implemented from Nov. 21 to 23 in the Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton areas, pointing out that they were set up in poor locations and interrupted the flow of traffic.
RCMP officials explained there has to be a balance between policing and maintaining traffic flow, and said they were looking into the roadblocks in question, which were a joint operation between Sea to Sky Traffic Services and the Lower Mainland Traffic Services.
Mayor Ken Melamed pointed out that local officers may be more sensitive to local issues, whereas officers coming from outside of the community may not understand the tourist-driven nature of the area, and should be aware that they are acting as ambassadors.
McPhail said they aimed to increase awareness about property crime in Whistler, and pointed out the majority of this crime targets tourists visiting the areas with high value goods. RCMP have worked closely with Whistler-Blackcomb to educate visitors about keeping their valuables safe and not leaving them in cars, which may have contributed to the slight decrease in motor vehicle crime.
Despite this success, the RCMP is still working on establishing Citizens on Patrol in Whistler, a volunteer group that would act as “eyes and ears” for the RCMP.
In Whistler, there is one police officer for every 400 residents, which is a fairly low ratio. But McPhail pointed out that, like provincial statistics, this number ratio does not account for the many tourists who come to town. Because of this, McPhail is seeking additional provincial support to boost resources, which are currently paid for by the municipality and the federal government in a 70-30 split.
Overall, McPhail said he is satisfied with the current level of service being offered in the corridor, though he would like to see increased attention along the highway.