Christina Lake has seen the presence of a full-time police constable for a second year this past summer.
The community has benefited largely from the Reserve Officer program, which places a retired, but fully-operational officer at the Lake for July and August.
Regional District of Kootenay Boundary Area C Director Grace McGregor and the Grand Forks RCMP’s Staff Sgt. Jim Harrison met in the fall of 2009 to discuss possible methods to address concerns about security and safety at Christina Lake.
McGregor previously attempted to address the situation at Christina Lake by hiring commissionaires for security checks through the Parks and Rec Commission, though it didn’t work as well as planned.
“The reason commissionaires didn’t work as well for us was because although there was a presence they really can’t do anything at the time due to distance,” McGregor explained. “If they did make a call, it would take a while for anybody to get here. It’s an on-going issue out here during July and August that that presence needs to be able to handle the issue right then and there in order to diffuse it.”
Harrison mentioned the idea of the Reserve Constable Program and McGregor passed the idea to the regional district who approved it for a trial run.
Const. Chris Cottrill was positioned at Christina Lake from July to August 2010, and again this past summer. When the summer-end report was completed, it revealed a decrease in mischief, including those related to alcohol-induction.
The Staff Sgt. explained the appeal of the job.
“For a lot of retired members it’s a really attractive thing because they get to keep their toes in policing, but they still have to pass their medical and pass all their qualifications as far as firearms and that type of thing,” he said. “They come back as full-fledged police officers who still have all the authority.”
“Last year we had significant results in reduction of crime.” said Harrison. “We know youth are going to party anyway but let’s encourage them to do it safely and not to disturbed other people. You can have your fun without causing damage in the community or disturbing the other residents. That was our goal.”
McGregor agreed, “Groups of youth partying on the lake won’t change, but what has change is the level of respect they have for the RCMP. The youth get along with Cottrill and he has managed to get through to quite a few.”
Statistics reveal a substantial drop from 2009 to 2010 in crime rates and has remained steady through 2010 to 2011.
Willful damage dropped to six incidences from 18 in 2009, and the consumption of alcohol in a public space dropped to four from 12.
However, Harrison pointed to a large increase in the Canada Shipping and Small Vessels Regulations.
“There’s almost 50 per cent more, but part of that is that some of my police officers from Grand Forks got involved in the seasonal policing, so it wasn’t just Chris this year.”
As the first regional district to engage in the Reserve Constable Program, McGregor was asked several times about the program while at the recent UBCM convention in Vancouver.
She said, “There is a great deal of interest in the program, from places with lakes that have the same issue.”
A budget of $20,000 is slotted to cover the two months, including a place for the constable to stay.
Harrison explains that the other provision for the constable deployed to a location is that he or she remains there.
“It turns out really great because he’s not just working here, he’s living here. He’s gotten to know a lot of the people and he’s basically become their small town cop, like the old village constable thing and it’s working,” said Harrison.
An unexpected benefit includes constable’s assistance on patrols and working along side Dave Webster, the conservation officer, and forestry patrol.
McGregor stated there are other advantages with the program.
“We also get help in a number of other areas that we wouldn’t get immediate help otherwise,” she said.
“When you’re doing something that works, then you need to keep doing it. If it doesn’t work, then that’s a different issue. This is working and people are feeling a lot safer.”
Harrison concurred, “It’s a great partnership. Smaller resort and tourist areas like Christina Lake don’t get extra funding from the province, so this is an extremely viable option.”
Since the program has started, there has been no fatalities.
“The extra visibility of the police on the water has made everyone a little more careful and compliant with the rules and regulations,” Harrison pointed out. “Ultimately, that saves lives.”