My regular visit to the RCMP station to get the previous week’s police news has always been one of my favourite assignments. It gives me insight into what is happening in our community and I am extremely grateful for the co-operation of each commanding officer since I took over the police beat years ago.
But I think there hasn’t been a single time when I didn’t think, either aloud or quietly, how absurd some of the calls are. Often I think back to a CBC Radio interview several years ago with the commanding officer of the Kelowna detachment. He was announcing that there were some reported crimes to which his members would no longer respond to. Not enough personnel to give each call for service adequate attention meant that he had to make some tough choices, he said.
Now, after hearing synopses of tens of thousands of calls to the police, I think there are a number of issues that I think could be dismissed out of hand.
Why, I wonder, should police concern themselves with thefts of items from unlocked vehicles? While such thefts are crimes, they are pretty much entirely eliminated by the simple action of locking a vehicle’s doors. Is that an unreasonable expectation for a person responsible enough to actually own and drive a vehicle? It’s not a big stretch, either, to wonder about whether police should concern themselves with the theft of vehicles that had the keys left inside, with the doors unlocked. How much trouble is it to take the keys out?
Family disputes demand a considerable amount of police resources, with RCMP members often being called about custody issues. Inevitably, the calls result because estranged spouses are taking their anger out by using the kids as ammunition. Most commonly the spouses have to admit to police that there is no court-sanctioned custody arrangement and they have to be advised to seek one. While police are usually pretty good at mediation, the fact is that they are getting called out when there hasn’t been a commission of crime.
Or how about what I refer to as “the usual suspects”? Often, I can identify the nature of the call as soon as my RCMP contact names the street where the complaint came from. It might be from a chronically intoxicated person who calls to have a visitor removed from a residence. Every week. Or an elderly person who suffers from dementia and sees people in the trees around the house. Or a pair of neighbours who play a tag team game of ratting out each other for any number of perceived grievances, none of which amount to a crime.
Admittedly, some of the callouts end up to be pretty funny stories, something I’m usually happy to pass on to readers. Like when a female sneaked into the aquatic centre changing rooms to shower (“She made a clean getaway,” I reported).
More often, reports involve things like receiving unwanted text messages, when the recipient need only block the sender from sending the messages. Instead, a call is made to police. Or a neighbor takes offense at another’s activities, like mowing the lawn. Instead of doing the logical thing, like walking over to the person and explaining the concern, though, the solution that comes to mind is to call the police.
A few summers ago, I recall a report where someone called to complain that several kids were on the community complex grounds in the evening, playing hacky-sack. “So you shot them?” I asked.
The list goes on, but it becomes a cause for discussion when the quarterly report to Creston town council says that as many as 500 calls in the last year came from, or about, two addresses. Obviously, few of those calls involved actual crimes.
I wonder how police officers must feel when, at the end of a shift, they think back upon how much of their time was wasted by frivolous calls, when that same time could have been used to give serious issues more attention, or even spent doing the community policing work to which they are all assigned. When time allows.
Much has been made in recent years of a need for more policing, especially in the more remote rural areas. I wonder, though, if it isn’t at least worth considering the redefining of what issues truly warrant a police response.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.