The Whistler RCMP presented its annual crime statistics last week, outlining the priorities of a police force striving to evolve in step with the community around it.
“Our world is changing, and the policing world and the landscape have, in turn… become more complicated,” said Insp. Jeff Christie in a presentation to municipal council.
As the province descended further into the depths of B.C.’s opioid crisis in 2017, responding to the threat of fentanyl has become a top priority for police in the Sea to Sky. Approximately 81 per cent of the more than 1,420 illicit drug overdose deaths in B.C. last year involved the highly addictive opioid.
There were eight fentanyl-related deaths in the corridor last year, and two “fentanyl-related” arrests, Christie said. (The RCMP would not provide any additional information on the exact location of the overdose deaths or the nature of the two fentanyl-related arrests, due to privacy concerns.)
Along with receiving additional training over the past year in how to assist an individual experiencing a fentanyl overdose, the RCMP created “a fentanyl roundtable” with representation from several local agencies. The Whistler detachment also plans to install a new fume hood that will allow members to safely handle toxic materials such as fentanyl.
“And we’ve been looking at the trends in the corridor to make sure we are as responsive (to fentanyl) as we can be,” Christie added.
Assaults on the rise
Whistler saw a dramatic rise in assaults over the past year, but police were quick to remind council that the figures were mostly in line with historical averages.
In all, there were 143 reported assaults last year, up from 112 in 2016, a year that was “very low” in reported crimes across the board, said Staff Sgt. Paul Hayes. The resort averaged 134.6 assaults a year in the five years spanning 2013 to 2017.
“I’m not entirely sure why (2016), of all the years, was like that,” Hayes said. “However, what we’ve seen this year is a more standard level of what we would normally expect.”
Broken down further, there were 20 reported sexual assaults in 2017, compared to 16 the year prior, and the five-year annual average of 14.
Hayes believes the slight increase could be attributed to outreach work the RCMP has done with partner agencies and community groups to better educate the public on the process of reporting a sexual assault.
“We’re very aware that what is reported to us is only the tip of the iceberg of the sexual assault that goes on,” he noted. “Our desire and hope was to get more folks to come to us, and that is reflected in the increase.”
Last year, the RCMP was one of 31 police forces across the country that committed to reviewing its policies after a sweeping Globe and Mail investigation exposed “deep flaws” in how law enforcement handle allegations of sexual assault.
In Whistler, the data showed that, from 2010 to 2014, police deemed 25 of 102 sexual assault allegations — or 25 per cent — as baseless. That's higher than the national average of 19 per cent, as well as unfounded rates in Pemberton (18 per cent) and Squamish (nine per cent).
Both the Howe Sound Women’s Centre and Sea to Sky Community Services are participating in a pilot project this year to obtain certification in third-party reporting, which allows victims of sexual offences to report a crime through a third party and remain anonymous to the police. This allows police to still receive a report of the incident that can be used to further an investigation. Third-party reporting capabilities are expected to be in place at both organizations by next winter.
Looking at domestic violence, the 2017 stats were similar to last year: 40 reports, down from 43 in 2016. The five-year average is 43.6.
Police have identified this as another priority area for enforcement in the upcoming year. To that end, Christie said a presentation has been prepared for police supervisors to ensure “the quality of our work is meeting the latest expectations safety standards and protocols put in place.”
A new sexual assault/domestic violence investigator position was recently approved for the Squamish detachment, a role that authorities are also exploring to introduce in Whistler.
“We’re currently going through our internal processes to see what that might look like,” Hayes noted.
Property crime stays the course; bike thefts on the decline
The resort saw an almost identical number of reported property crimes between last year and 2016 — although bike owners should be relieved to hear bike thefts are on the decline.
In all, there were 694 reported property crimes in 2017 — only one more than the year before, and well below the historical average of 743.2.
That included 17 auto thefts; 81 thefts from vehicles (up from 62); and 74 bike thefts, compared to 119 in 2016, and a five-year average of 92.2.
Hayes credited the RCMP’s bait-bike program for the drop.
“As a result of that (program), we did take into custody several folks over the course of last year and were able to tie them to other thefts, and recover stolen bikes and lost property,” he explained.
There were a whopping 288 impaired drug and alcohol-related driving infractions on Whistler’s roads last year, a massive increase that police chock up to proactive enforcement.
“We have some folks that have achieved some very high watermarks in terms of their investigation around impaired driving,” said Hayes, referring to the five Whistler RCMP members who were named to Alexa’s Team in the last year, a program that recognizes officers throughout B.C. who go above and beyond in reducing the number of impaired drivers on the road.
There were 149 impaired driving infractions in 2016, down from the historical average of 238.4. Hayes said 2017 also saw a 10-per-cent boost in impaired driving charges laid.
“We have a substantial focus on that, and to create that level of dedication and commitment has been a jewel for us this year,” Hayes added.
In all, there were 229 vehicle collisions in Whistler last year, down from 233 in 2016, but higher than the five-year average of 207. There were 36 motor-vehicle injuries in the past year, compared to 22 in 2016 and a historical average of 24.6. There was one fatal motor-vehicle accident within Whistler’s boundaries last year. In August, a 47-year-old B.C. woman died after falling off an ATV on a guided tour from the Crystal Hut on Blackcomb.