When you mention the police it is the general duty or frontline officer that usually springs to mind, the uniformed officers in patrol vehicles responding to calls and speaking with people in towns and cities across British Columbia.
As the RCMP and society changes and evolves these officers also are adapting to new community needs and pressures. What was community policing 150 years ago has changed significantly. During our early years the RCMP was often the first government agency and service providers for emerging communities. One of first roles was to help new communities and new settlers adapt to unexpected realities.
Today’s RCMP is continuing to evolve and modern policing extends beyond enforcement and is more integrated. For Staff Sergeant Scott West, the Detachment Commander in Salmon Arm, one of the biggest changes that he as seen in his almost 30 years of service is the willingness to work with health services in dealing with mental health and addictions.
Community involvement in these issues has grown exponentially, as well as our understanding of the issues, he explains.
Before we would only deal with health agencies when a person was in extreme crisis or suicidal. Now we know who to call, and they are more likely to provide us with information, and that is very positive.
Sergeant Lita Watson, Detachment Commander for Lake Cowichan echoes these sentiments.
Mental health calls are through the roof, and unfortunately we spend a lot of time on them, says Sgt. Watson.
Everyone is dealing with homelessness and opioids now. Our homeless are part of the community though and we are fortunate to have a good relationship with them. Community policing is very important.
According to S/Sgt. West this is a positive evolution, and one that is important for police.
Society has become more nuanced and understanding. We have evolved to mirror what society is doing, he adds.
Beyond health issues community partnerships are vital for frontline officers in smaller communities such Lake Cowichan.
We couldn’t do our job without community services, explains Sgt Watson adding that police routinely work closely with ambulance services and fire departments. In addition, she adds that they also work closely with local, provincial and federal partner agencies such as BC Conservation Services and the Department of Fisheries on enforcement initiatives to help each other achieve greater success.
Sgt Watson says that in Lake Cowichan’s case this cooperation is doubly important as it is facing changing demographics, and as it is a seasonal destination for large numbers of tourists there is more need more need for a frontline response in vast areas to assist people that are not prepared for the wilderness.
One area that both S/Sgt West and Sgt Watson agree has not changed is the importance of frontline officers to engage with the public in events and discussions outside of their policing duties.
It’s important to have the boots on the ground and speak to people when they are not having the worst day of their lives, says S/Sgt. West.
It’s a huge part of what our community wants. To engage youth and adults at hockey games or at the lake regarding awareness and safety, says Sgt Watson.
Of course it’s not just the community that benefits from these discussions.
It’s refreshing to be interacting with people at these community events, explains S/Sgt West.
It’s good to hear that they trust you. A lot of communities are proud to have the RCMP as their police of jurisdiction.
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