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‘Homeless issue not a police issue’ - White Rock detachment commander tells council

Laws also discourage police interaction with drug users, Kale Pauls says during annual report
White Rock RCMP Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls says police have limited powers in addressing some concerns voiced by White Rock residents. (File photos)

White Rock RCMP has limited powers in dealing with some of the most consistent complaints from the public – including open drug use and an increasing homeless population.

That was the message from detachment commander Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls as he faced questions from council members following his annual report on policing in the city at the Feb. 13 meeting.

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Coun. David Chesney, a resident of the north end of the city, said he hears complaints on an almost daily basis from people concerned about drug use and break-ins to condos.

But Pauls said that while progress is made in identifying break-in offenders – he pointed to a recent case, still under investigation, in which a search warrant uncovered a large amount of stolen goods – as far as drug use, current B.C. law gives officers limited options to intervene.

“In terms of drug use, as you may be aware, with the decriminalization exemption, public use of certain hard drugs is now not an offence,” Pauls said.

“The way the law is designed right now, it’s to avoid having the police interact with drug users.”

In response to questions from Coun. Ernie Klassen, who voiced concerns on behalf of retail business owners about a rapidly growing homeless population encroaching on business entrances and alarming customers, Pauls noted: “The homeless issue is not a police issue.”

Pauls acknowledged that the warming centre at Centennial Park, by its nature – “and it provides a great service”– is attracting more homeless from Surrey and elsewhere to White Rock, and there has been an increase in calls to police about them.

“When people are obstructing business and don’t leave when someone asks them, they can call us,” he said.

“Most of the time our officers know who these folks are, and they’ll have that gentle conversation with them,” he added.

“That’s the best we can do to help facilitate a compassionate response to our homeless population, and hope for something better from the province to help with the housing issue.”

Chesney also noted he hears a lot of complaints from city residents about speeding.

Pauls said some 1,528 documents for traffic offences were issued during 2022 – either tickets or written warnings.

“I’d estimate about two thirds of them were for speeding,” Pauls said.

In other questions, Chesney voiced concerns about impaired drivers.

“The drugs were going to be a problem for us to enforce, from what I understood, when we legalized cannabis, etc.,” Chesney said.

“How would you detect that a person is impaired by, let’s say, cannabis (or) THC?

“We have a number of officers that are trained in the standardized field sobriety test,” Pauls said.

This is authorized under the Criminal Code as the first step in detecting a drug-impaired driver.

“From there, that can turn into a ‘drug recognition evaluation’ which is a more extensive evaluation, which usually results in a urine test at the end, to test for the presence of that certain drug.”

Chesney, noting 101 police interactions with impaired drivers during 2022, wanted to know if all of them had resulted in a ticket.

“They were all issued with up to a Criminal Code charge for impaired driving, or down to a 24-hour driving prohibition, depending on their level of impairment,” Pauls said.

In other aspects of his report, Pauls said that body-worn cameras for officers are expected to be introduced to the detachment either late this year or at the beginning of 2024.

“The RCMP has a vendor already and they’re just doing some field testing outside of B.C.,” he said.

There is also expected to be an increased community policing capacity in 2023, due to a recent drive to recruit volunteers, he said.

Pauls said the detachment will also see the benefit of local expertise developed over the past year – and which still in ongoing development – including a pro-active support response team, which has been introduced in divisions throughout B.C.

“(This provides) psychological health (support) for critical incidents – we have two members trained on that, right now, and hopefully we’ll have more,” he said.

“We have a crisis negotiator locally – an expert in crisis communications. Of course, having a local one, we may not use them that often, but they do calls outside of White Rock, and they spread their expertise within our detachment on communication techniques.

“We also have a Division Liaison Team member, who is a specialist in unlawful protest resolution – again, this a lot about communication and spreading their training to our detachment – and we also have an underwater recovery team diver.”

In answer to a question from Mayor Megan Knight, Pauls also confirmed bike patrols will continue to be a feature of waterfront policing during the summer months.

“You will see more bikes out this season,” he said.

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