RCMP Open House
Approximately 40 people attended the Vermilion RCMP’s Open House at the Clandonald Hall on March 29.
“I’ve been in the RCMP 19 years, and I wouldn’t change a thing. We have a small group of very dedicated members that I think do a fantastic job, but we held this meeting to find out what your perception is. There are nine members in Vermilion and three support staff. When I joined the detachment I pushed for members to be on the road; there are no bad guys in the office,” said Sergeant Mike Dunsmore. The RCMP will be celebrating their 150th Anniversary or Birthday this year.”
A presentation gave an overview of the detachment area, the call volume and statistics, an RCMP App, and body-worn cameras, followed by a Q and A.
MLA Garth Rowswell said, “It provided a great opportunity for area residents to have a positive connection with the RCMP, and there was a good turnout. Usually, they are meeting the public in a negative environment, whereas this was an opportunity to have a friendly conversation.”
The Vermilion Detachment area covers from Ranfurly to Islay, and south of 619 following the Battle River and north to meet up with neighbouring detachment areas of Elk Point, Two Hills County and Kitscoty to the northeast. Of 116 detachments in the province, there are 27 in the Eastern Alberta District, which he said includes Vermilion and is the biggest and busiest. The Vermilion Detachment looks after four zones; the Town of Vermilion, the County of Minburn, the County of Vermilion River, and a small portion of the County of Two Hills. With a minimum of two members on duty at a time.
“We try to be out of the office 80 per cent of the time, and when Priority 1 calls happen; you don’t just get Vermilion Detachment. Rural crime is an issue plaguing western Canada and the rural population within them; it’s not unique to our community,” said Dunsmore.
Of the crime, approximately 40 per cent occurs in the Town of Vermilion (being it has the largest population), the counties of Minburn and Vermilion River are each just over 25 per cent, the corner of the County of Two Hills is 3.1 per cent, and 4.9 per cent is a margin of error.
“You would think the busiest time would be Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights; but surprisingly Wednesday at noon is our busiest time, and Monday at 11 a.m. There are still a few nights a month with no calls for service,” said Dunsmore.
There were 27 assaults last year, a large percentage of computer-based crime over COVID, and a 140 per cent increase in uttering threats over a 5-year trend (which he said two individuals with significant mental health issues contributed to those numbers). In October – December of last year, theft over $5,000 increased by 1,200 per cent.
“That’s a big number. There were multiple stolen vehicles over a couple of weeks that were by travelling criminals. Watching a video, from the time they took the screwdriver to the door until they pulled out of the yard was 17 seconds. Some people leave their keys in their car; and even when you don’t, how many times are your eyes diverted? We don’t get very many back (likely under 10 per cent). They are stolen for two reasons; for fun (finding them burned out or in ditches), or going to a truck shop (being harvested for parts),” said Dunsmore. “What can you do as a citizen? I grew up as a farm kid on the weekends and the keys are often in the vehicle. We have to find another way to run our farms and not make them so accessible. One family staged vehicles, trailers and quads to start work first thing in the morning; but they were all gone. You can insert battery cut-off switches (they will do damage, but you will have your vehicle).”
When asked what citizens can do to protect themselves, Dunsmore said, “The Criminal Code says you can use as much force as necessary to defend your person or property, but it has to be reasonable and it has to be equivalent. We advocate for people to be our eyes and ears; not our hands. You never know who you are dealing with and where they are at in their head. They may be willing to use more force than you in order to evade further charges or parole violations.”
For example with a strange vehicle appearing at the end of your driveway, he said he’s the first to advocate for being a good neighbour (or offering help), but he said those people are being taken advantage of. The RCMP launched a Mobile App one and a half years ago as a way to report non-urgent property crimes).
“The police rely on citizens to be our eyes and ears,” said Dunsmore.
As for body-worn cameras, he said every police officer he’s talked to in the past five years is 100 per cent in favour of them.
“We owe it to the citizens just as much or with even more fervour than other investigations to prove complaints of excessive force. Body-worn cameras are coming and it’s a great thing,” he said.
They have been used in other areas such as the Calgary Police Service since 2016, but he said the RCMP has to be consistent from coast to coast and north to south. St. Paul and St. Albert are two of the communities currently piloting them. They do have an on/off switch and he said they are developing a policy on when they should be activated (not when they are home for lunch, etc.), but he agreed they should remain on during formal interactions. Footage from the cameras would automatically be fed to the officer’s car until they pull into the parking lot where it would automatically upload to offices in Edmonton and Ottawa and be held for years.
Asked what role peace offers play he said, “They are invaluable; they supplement the things we do (things we quite frankly don’t have the time for). If the municipality could afford more, we would work with them more.”
Asked about a provincial force he noted that when working with Cochrane RCMP in 2004 or 2005, they did a study on contracting Calgary City Police but it did not happen.
“You should look at getting the best bang for your buck, but I hope it doesn’t happen,” said Dunsmore.
One of the attendees said, “I heard on the radio that if you want to have a democracy then you have to have enforcement. Thank you for coming to work every day. I appreciate having a democracy to live in and as crazy as the world is now it’s not guaranteed, but we will have one as long as you are at work.
“It really is a team effort,” responded Dunsmore.
“These town hall meetings give people a chance to voice their opinion better than at the coffee shop, and reminders to lock their trucks and shop. And it gives one another support,” said County of Vermilion River Councillor Les Cusack. “In the busy seasons with seeding and calving sometimes people just forget to take their keys out of the vehicle. As inconvenient as it is to keep everything locked, it is the best prevention.”