- Our Town
RCMP host meeting for downtown businesses
Downtown business owners and stakeholders met with Sgt. Jim Fenske of the Grand Forks RCMP on Thursday to discusssecurity concerns in the downtown core and the challenges surrounding RCMP work in Grand Forks.
The meeting, which was initiated by Fenske, was attended by dozens of business owners, employees and stakeholders(including city staff, mayor Frank Konrad and members of council) at the Grand Forks Curling Club. Fenske began the meetingby giving an overview of policing those with mental health issues in the downtown core.
Fenske said there has been a substantial increase in mental health files downtown in the first few months of 2017. That couldbe due to the deterioration in the condition of many known and long-time downtown residents, whose mental health issuesare reaching a crisis point.
“I suspect it is because the behaviors are getting worse as the abuse continues,” Fenske said. “It is getting worse.”
RCMP have the ability to apprehend people under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act, but Fenske said those apprehensionsrarely result in committal to a hospital.
Fenske was also careful to explain the difference between mental health “issues” and mental health “illness” as it pertains tohis work — the former describes someone having temporary or long term issues due to drug abuse, while the later refers toconditions beyond the person’s control. Since the beginning of the year, Fenske said RCMP officers have responded to 70 filesdowntown, 30 of which have a mental health component.
After a question from an audience member, Fenske also explained why relatively few arrests in British Columbia result incharges being laid by the crown. Unlike other provinces where police lay charges after an arrest, in B.C. charges are laid bythe Crown when there is “substantial” likelihood of conviction. That distinction makes it extremely hard to have chargespressed, especially the in cases of petty and property crime common to Grand Forks, Fenske said.
Fenske also addressed the issue of shoplifting in the downtown core. There are some major things business owners can do toprotect themselves and their employees — including exercising their right to refuse service. If the problem persists, Fenskesaid the RCMP can lay criminal charges — “mischief preventing the lawful use of property” — or businesses can apply for acivil restraining order relatively easily. A surefire way to ensure you get stolen property return if it is recovered, Fenske said, isto keep a record of important serial numbers.
“Saying, ‘Oh it is for sure my ring’ [is not enough]. Can you prove that to 110 per cent? I can go online and download 63pictures of it, so how do you know it is yours?,” Fenske said. “It is frustrating to know we have the right piece of property andcan’t give it back and we can’t lay charges because we cannot link it to being stolen.”
He also encouraged business owners to stay connected with each other and share information about issues and concerns theyare having with their individual businesses.
Fenske also reviewed the stats on break and enters this year — so far there have been two and one was unfounded. It is thepolicy of the RCMP not to respond to calls from the alarm company in most cases when no officers are on shift, he said. Lastyear, RCMP responded to 178 false alarms.
With the onset of the fentanyl epidemic, Fenske also encouraged local businesses to purchase and store Narcan on site — notonly for someone overdosing, but for a bystander or employee who tries to help and comes into contact with the highlypotent drug.
“The nasal sprays are $35 each. Narcan is cheap and anyone can administer it. It works on opioids, but if someone is having ameth-based reaction, it doesn’t hurt them,” he said.
An important piece of the puzzle, Fenske said, is to remain calm when dealing with upset or potentially dangerous people.Using a calm, low tone of voice, keeping a distance, and not alarming customers go a long way to deescalating a situation,which has been a focus of RCMP training in the past several year.
Fenske also urged employers to have a safety plan in place. This can include details of what to do and where to go in case ofemergency, as well as who to call and how to keep customers calm.
In the end, Fenske said the meeting was about reassuring business owners their concerns and problems are being recognizedby local law enforcement.
“We are here to protect you and that is our job, but I didn’t want you to think I’m ignoring the issue hoping it will go awaybecause it won’t,” he said. “We need to find a way to deal with it, and we need to find a way to deal with it together.”