Top cop answers questions about public threats, police conduct, and more
If there is a confirmed threat to public safety, the RCMP sends out an immediate notice, said RCMP Staff Sergeant John Spaans at the Slave Lake RCMP online town hall meeting on June 11. This was in response to a question about the time delay of information about ‘an incident in the southwest’ which happened last month in Slave Lake.
In the incident, said Spaans, the RCMP had unconfirmed information that there was “no threat to the public.” It took over 24 hours to determine who to arrest. During those 24 hours, the police investigated several people. Once they knew they had the right person, the man was arrested quickly – within an-hour-and-a-half or two hours. Once the person was identified, the RCMP was able to confirm that there was “no threat to the public.”
Both Spaans and Town of Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman referred to it as ‘an incident,’ but it was obvious they were speaking of the May 17 murder of Christopher Valiquette. The suspect has been charged and is in the court system.
“Slave Lake has “a pretty high instance of persons crimes,” said Spaans. These include threats, assault, sexual assault etc.
So far in 2020, crime is down 28 per cent since last year, says Spaans, in an email. “The COVID-19 pandemic may explain some of these decreases but proactive efforts by the detachment including targeted enforcement and ‘hot spot’ policing may explain some as well.
“Between January 1 and May 31, (2020) the Slave Lake (RCMP) Detachment has investigated 110 persons crimes. This is a 23 per cent reduction from the same period last year and the lowest in the last five years.
“During this period the detachment investigated 383 instances of property crime. This is a seven per cent reduction over last year. There has been a reduction in break and enters of 24 per cent. There has been a reduction in vehicle thefts by 52 per cent.”
Having bylaw officers allows the RCMP to deal with criminal code violations, Spaans said. The province of Alberta considering allowing peace officers to deal with minor crimes like shoplifting theft under $5,000 and collisions. This was put on hold during COVID-19.
“The strategic thing about policing is it is collaborative,” said mayor Warman.
Slave Lake RCMP schedule is based on the time and location of past crimes. Also, the detachment focuses on prolific offenders.
Spaans said each month he figures out who the 15 most prolific offenders in the area are; the police then watch them with surveillance and traffic stops.
If they break the law, they are charged. Most of the most recent ones are in jail or have left the area.
The RCMP has no control of what happens once people are in the court system, but it can influence “how comfortable they are here,” he continued.
Slave Lake is a 22-hour detachment, said Spaans. Someone is on-call 24 hours, but staff is only scheduled to be in the detachment for 22 hours. This is because of staffing. Slave Lake detachment has funding for 18 officers, but usually has some vacancies. This includes commanding officers. At any given time there are usually 12 officers who respond to calls. This means there aren’t enough people to be on-duty 24 hours. However, the schedule is based on ‘heat mapping’ of when and where crime is reported.
This is why it is so important to “report everything,” said mayor Warman.
“Information goes a long way to make connections.” It can also be used to lobby the province for funding.
The Slave Lake detachment also covers the M.D. of Lesser Slave River. Two of the 18 positions are designated rural officers.
“Every officer in Slave Lake wants to wear a body camera,” said Spaans. “We can’t wait to get them.”
However, it is a big expense and has lots of technical problems which need to be figured out first. It is however a national priority for the RCMP.
“Body cameras would be welcome by all,” said mayor Warman. The Slave Lake bylaw officers wear body cameras, but the situation is more complicated with the RCMP, which has many more officers.
The RCMP welcomes feedback and asks people to report everything.
“We can only do what we are asked to do,” says Spaans.
Spaans also urges people to report any issues with police officers. The examples given were speeding, following too close or running a red light.
While not mentioned, more serious offenses should also be reported, as the May 27, 2020 conviction of a former Slave Lake RCMP office highlights. The officer was convicted of an assault which happened in Slave Lake in 2017.
In a June 8 statement, the Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer said, “police officers serve Albertans, and the overwhelming majority do so honourably. But incidents of abuse undermine faith in the system as a whole.”
“I’m a conduct investigator,” says Spaans. “(But) I don’t know if any of my officers have done something wrong, unless” people report it.
People can contact the office and speak to Spaans or Sergeant Don Racette at 780-849-3999 or contact the national RCMP public complaint line online, by mail or at 1-800-665-6878.
Another question had to do with staff turnaround.
RCMP officers are generally in an area for two to five years, said Spaans.
After two years, officers can be asked to move. Slave Lake is a unique detachment. It is like a “training or breeding ground” as officers work on “more serious files” than in say Red Deer or other larger centres. In recent years, officers have received offers from the federal intelligence agency, National Air Protection, divisional training and homicide units.