The Burns Lake RCMP is hoping that, by increasing police presence in a specific area of town, they can reduce crime in the broader Burns Lake area.
The area being targeted, called the “red zone,” stretches from Hwy. 16 – between Third Avenue and the Lakeview Mall – to Burns Lake.
Corporal Greg Willcocks with the Burns Lake RCMP explained that in 2016, 70 per cent of ‘cause disturbance offences’ originated in the red zone. And although only 10 per cent of the more serious offences such as assault and property crime occurred in the red zone, the RCMP say that serious offences in other areas are often related to substance abuse that start in the red zone.
“Last year we found that only 10 per cent of the assaults occurred in the red zone; but when we dug deeper into that, we found that initially they were down here [in the red zone], and then they go to other areas and cause issues there because they are intoxicated,” said Willcocks.
“Our theory with this model is that, if we’re proactive and deal with this [substance abuse issue] before people go out and commit other offences, we’re actually reducing the amount of crime in other areas.”
Willcocks said this initiative has been successful in other jurisdictions across Canada and that this is the first time that it’s being implemented in a small town. The pilot project was implemented in Burns Lake on June 7, effectively turning a portion of the downtown core into a “zero tolerance zone.”
“What people are going to see is a lot of us walking around,” explained Willcocks. “Everybody in the detachment has been tasked with walking around – not only to enforce these things [rules under the liquor control and licensing act], but also to interact with the community.”
“We want people to come say hi to us,” he continued. “This morning I walked for about an hour and I spoke with about 10 people.”
“We want people to know that we are available and approachable, and that if they have a concern they can come talk to us; and it’s a lot easier to do that when you’re outside of your police car.”
Willcocks added that this initiative is not only about increased enforcement, but also about helping people who may be struggling with addiction. The RCMP has partnered with the Village of Burns Lake to connect people struggling with substance abuse with local addiction services.
“We want to deal with the offence that is right in front of us, but we also want to deal with the cause of the issue,” he said. “It’s not just enforcement; if someone is so intoxicated that they have to spend the night in our cells as a safety precaution, what we would like to do is offer programs that would help them.”
The Burns Lake RCMP also plan to reach out to business owners in the red zone and stay in regular contact with them.
“They are obviously there all the time, and they see a lot more than we do,” explained Willcocks. “What we want is to build those relationships as best as we can.”
“It’s about being proactive and dealing with the issue before it becomes an issue,” he added.