Transients drive increase in RCMP calls in Parksville
In a presentation to city council this week, Parksville's top cop painted a bleak picture of increasing service calls driven by transient offenders not previously seen in the region.
"I'd say we're getting seven to 10 extra calls, per day, that we weren't seeing last summer," Staff Sgt. Marc Pelletier, head of the Oceanside RCMP detachment, said Wednesday. "No one arrested in the past couple of weeks is from this area. We're now arresting people with warrants out of Alberta, Kelowna, Vancouver, just to name a few.
"They're coming here, they're staying in Parksville and they're becoming our problem."
Pelletier's remarks came as council hosted its first public consultation on the 2017-2021 financial plan bylaw. Among the items submitted for request in the budget are $61,103 for one additional RCMP officer for the Oceanside detachment for half of 2017, and $244,412 for two officers for 2018 — and beyond.
Coun. Kim Burden noted Oceanside is a shared RCMP detachment serving Qualicum Beach and the Regional District of Nanaimo, and asked if Parksville was "being asked to shoulder the whole load."
When asked by Coun. Leanne Salter whether Pelletier would be making the pitch to the RDN board of directors and Qualicum Beach council, Pelletier said he would.
"I would just like to hear the (budget) numbers after you approach the RDN and Qualicum Beach," Salter said. "This (amount) isn't the end."
Council is deliberating an $11,987,500 draft final budget for fiscal 2017, which carries a four per cent tax increase over 2016. That total remains unchanged from the provisional 2017 budget submitted as part of last year's five-year financial plan bylaw.
Pelletier described the increase in calls for service to the RCMP detachment as largely public mischief, theft of property and drug-related offences. And most of the increase has taken place within Parksville.
"We've had a guy who was smashing window in the downtown core; a break-and-enter at a construction site; a transient male dealing drugs — and he tried to bear-spray the officer when he was being arrested," said Pelletier. "There's little things, like a guy sleeping in the (credit union) ATM; or 'I've got a guy sleeping in the front doorway of my business; can you come and get him up outta here 'cause I'm trying to open up my business."
Pelletier, who joined the detachment last September, said he has spoken with longtime Oceanside members who told him they have not previously seen these calls at their current level.
The Oceanside detachment has 38 members, Pelletier said. Asked by Coun. Teresa Patterson when was the last time the staff had members added, Pelletier said, "I have no idea."
Coun. Kirk Oates wondered if the recent surge of calls wasn't "a blip" in RCMP activity that might subside to earlier levels.
"When you came before council last time to share statistics, it wasn't an issue," Oates told Pelletier. "Now, five weeks, a month later, it's an issue that going to cost us $250,000 going forward."
Pelletier noted that the RCMP did not initiate the request for more officers, but was asked during its last meeting with city officials how many the detachment needed.
"I said 'Give me four members.' Of course, that's not gonna happen, so we decided to settle on the difference, and let's make it two."
Burden admitted he was troubled by the increased activity, and both Pelletier and Mayor Marc Lefebvre said it could be an ominous portent with summer still ahead.
Last year, both the city and RCMP dealt with an ongoing issue cleaning up public campsites occupied and abandoned by transient homeless persons. Lefebvre said public works personnel were drawn off other duties to clean up camps and landscape public areas to make them less inviting to transient visitors, and one employee faces ongoing testing for HIV and hepatitis after being stabbed by a discarded syringe while cleaning up.
Coun. Mary Beil asked if more members was the only solution or whether RCMP could partner with local social services agencies to address some of the problems. Pelletier replied the detachment regularly partners with those agencies.
"This is a social issue," he said. "It's not going to be the officers that stop this flow that's coming in here, it's going to be everybody working together. These are big-city problems, and this is what Parksville's facing."
Council requested Pelletier return in the latter part of April to update council on the status of
Oceanside detachment statistics, prior to its final budget vote in May.
The next public consultation on the financial plan will take place Wednesday, March 29, at 6 p.m. in council chambers.