The situation pertaining to the level of police service that’s long been a bone of contention for Chemainus and Crofton residents is on the agenda of North Cowichan council’s virtual meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Former constable Terry van Seters worked at the Chemainus detachment for 12 years, including two years after it was absorbed into the North Cowichan/Duncan RCMP detachment. He’s brought it to the public’s attention that a commitment from 1998 to maintain eight officers in an expanded Chemainus region, with two officers working the area 24/7, has not been honoured.
A petition started by van Seters, who’s now retired and spent many years in the service on the Lower Mainland after leaving Chemainus, has garnered nearly 1,000 signatures in a short period of time.
The petition has been presented to council for discussion and consideration.
North Cowichan’s meeting agenda package indicates “this is considered informational to bring forward a matter of interest to council’s attention, expression of a group of people’s opinion. It is not considered a formal petition as described under the Community Charter.”
“I sent the entire petition,” said van Seters. “I broke it down to who signed from the catchment area and I sent a lot of background information on it.”
Key to that package are two articles from local newspapers that outlined how a certain level of service in Chemainus would be maintained. This followed an informational meeting in 1998 that drew an emotional response.
The decision was made to keep officers who would not leave the zone. Van Seters contends even during his time in the late 1990s and into 2000 officers were continually pulled south and the Chemainus-Crofton coverage was not maintained.
Van Seters has three minutes to state the case and said he’ll be concentrating on two key questions:
1) Is there anything that will compel the municipal council to honour the promises made to the residents of the north end of the municipality in 1998 for an enhanced zone policing when their detachment was closed?
2) I know an informal petition without verification of residency has little impact. Would a formal petition as described under the Community Charter provide any more incentive for the municipality to act on those promises?
Further to that, van Seters is asking whether the municipality has the power to tell the officer in charge of the RCMP detachment that he must honour those promises by instituting a defined zone policing strategy that will see two officers committed to the zone on a 24-hour basis.
“It is understood that police officers in either the north or the south part of the municipality must be free to cover each other when required for serious incidents,” he added. “They must not be saddled with the ensuing paperwork and follow-up for those incidents, and must be free to return to their assigned area.”
Van Seters said he will require a definitive answer so he can tell supporters of the petition if they are “flogging a dead horse” and that promises made to taxpayers by elected officials and the RCMP won’t be acknowledged.
Chemainus businessman Ward Yeager presented the north end policing concerns during a CBC radio interview last week and North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring acknowledged on the same program the issue has “been around for years.”
Siebring cited statistics that calls for service don’t justify the assignment of eight police officers for the north end.
“Most often in my time as a police officer in Chemainus and Crofton, there were two officers patrolling the area during the day, while the corporal and sergeant did the administrative paperwork in the office,” van Seters explained. “In the evening and during the night, after a certain time, one police officer was always in the area and on patrol. Callouts during the on-call down hours from 2-7 a.m. Sunday to Thursday and 4- 7 a.m. Friday and Saturday resulted in one police officer responding, and usually within 20 minutes.”
He added the north end no longer needs two administrative positions in the office, as the patrol members will submit their work to the main office in the south end, mostly done by electronic means.
“What the community requires is that visible presence in their communities on a regular basis, where the police officers become familiar with, and familiar to, the residents of the area.
“They must have a base of operations. The highway patrol office is hardened as required by RCMP security concerns as a police facility. If it is the municipality’s intention to lease that space as an income source, as it is now with the provincial highway patrol there, and not use it as a police facility, then another facility will have to be equally hardened at a significant cost. Dedicated police resources for the north end must work out of a visible police facility in the north end.”
As for the perceived costs of having the police officers here that’s been brought up by some residents, it’s not an issue, van Seters said.
“This is to do with what they were supposed to do with the members of the detachment they have right now,” he noted.
Anyone who’s interested can view the council meeting that starts at 1:30 p.m. on-line.