Staff Sergeant Ryan Currie of the Creston RCMP provided the Town of Creston with a quarterly police report for 2020 during a council meeting on Nov. 24, where he revealed that sexual assault cases are up 72 per cent this year.
While the total number of sexual assault cases for the year is under 30, he described the increasing trend as startling.
“Everybody is working on this issue and trying to find out what’s going on, but it’s taking up a lot of our time,” said Currie.
In 2019, he said that Creston RCMP received a total call count of 3,349. From Jan. 1 to Nov. 1 this year, authorities have received 3,025 calls for service, and Currie said that he’s expecting that number to reach 3,600 by the end of the year.
“We’re seeing increased mental health and addiction calls. Everything that happened this year with George Floyd — with a number of questions about police handling these things — it results in increased public scrutiny,” he said.
Prosecutors are charging a Minneapolis police officer accused of pressing his knee against George Floyd’s neck with second-degree murder, following the man’s death in May. Three other officers who were at the scene have also been charged.
Mental health calls are up 13 per cent, and assault cases are also up 13 per cent. He highlighted that the nature of many of the assault cases is domestic.
“There is a rise in violence. I don’t know if we can attribute it to COVID-19, but with all the pressures on the people and mental health, I think that’s what we’re seeing,” he said.
He added that the local detachment is working with the Creston Valley Hospital and Interior Health authorities to better serve people with mental and addiction issues.
“We’re trying to stay on the same page to manage mental health and addictions, so we’re both supporting each other and we’re doing our jobs the best we can with the limited resources that we have,” he said.
Local authorities have also seen an increase in COVID-19 related calls for service, but Currie said that the majority of calls are just residents asking pandemic-related questions.
“We’re not doing a lot of enforcement. We haven’t had the ones where someone is having a giant party,” he said. “But we are getting calls, especially ones where people aren’t quarantining after returning from the U.S.”
He also warned councillors of an anti-mask sentiment brewing amongst a small group of individuals in town.
“I had an interesting discussion with a group in town who’s challenging the validity of the provincial health order — masks especially — stating that that’s a violation of the (Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms),” he said.
The group informed him that they are planning on hosting anti-mask protests in town and that they are pushing local businesses to do the same. The individuals told Currie that they belong to a national, anti-COVID measures collective called Stand Up Canada.
He clarified that RCMP officers cannot enforce the mask mandate, as the onus is on business owners to advise customers to wear a mask and refuse them service if they don’t comply.
However, as of Nov. 23, British Columbians who don’t follow the mask mandate can face a $230 fine which will be enforced by local bylaw officers, police and other provincial compliance enforcement officers. If violation tickets don’t act as a deterrent against a repeat offender, police can also recommend charges to the Crown.
Going forward, he said that the challenge will be ensuring that officers focus on core policing duties and that they refer calls to the appropriate agencies if they’re available.
“What I’m trying to move towards is focusing on core policing duties, that we’re doing core policing,” he said. “If we get caught up on too many things, if we’re wearing too many hats, then the assaults — the sexual assault, the domestic violence — isn’t being addressed well enough because we are stretched too thin.”