Delegates at a Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) convention in Saskatoon took the opportunity to question the RCMP’s staffing levels and response times during a presentation Thursday morning.
RCMP Cpl. Mel Zurevinsky addressed hundreds or representatives from rural municipalities across the province at TCU Place. His presentation focused on Everbridge, a smartphone app that links crime watch groups directly with police, allowing for real-time reporting of suspicious activity, including text, photos and GPS locations.
“What this What’sApp does, and what Everbridge will give is an anonymity to what you’re reporting. And people will get more confidence in reporting, maybe, things which they didn’t feel were suspicious in the past,” he said.
Zurevinsky said 124 rural municipalities now either have crime watch groups, or are setting them up. He said he hoped to see them in all 297 rural municipalities Saskatchewan.
“What I’m excited about in the next two or three years is our analytics department showing the public how it’s deterred crime in the province,” he said.
Following his presentation, several people asked Zurevinsky questions related to the numbers of officers available in rural areas, the amount of time it takes them to respond to calls and what property owners can do during an incident.
Zurevinsky said he understood the frustrations people felt. He said one of the biggest obstacles for RCMP was the difficulty in filling vacancies, noting the service struggles to compete with municipal police forces for recruits.
“I guess what is more of an attraction maybe, municipal police forces have to their advantage is you’re not getting moved on a regular basis. You can contribute to one community and you’re not uprooting your family to the next post. So, that might be something we’re finding is a deterrent for members applying.”
While he encouraged people to report crime, Zurevinsky stressed that police officers should still be the ones to handle criminals.
“Is your safety, taking the law into your own hands, worth a quad? Worth a truck? Sometimes, letting things be makes the most sense.”
R.M. of Paddockwood delegate Tom Mcknight said he understood RCMP officers have a tough job, but that for many, “it’s just stuff” isn’t a good enough response.
“People say ‘it’s just stuff. It’s just a quad. It’s just stuff.’ Some people spend half their lives away from their families working in the mines, working in the (oilpatch) to buy that stuff.”
He said he wanted to see more RCMP officers on the ground, but also wanted police to do more to communicate what property owners’ rights are if they find themselves confronted by criminals.
“I don’t know if there’s just one thing that’s a solution. But letting people know what their rights are at least then gives them the ability to make a conscious decision whether or not they want to do that or not. At least then, we have the choice, right?”