RCMP detachment commander outlines priorities, predicts lower crime severity score for 2020

Thompson Chamber of Commerce members heard March 24 about the Thompson RCMP’s performance objectives for the upcoming year and why the commander thinks the city’s Crime Severity Index (CSI) score should go down when the next edition of the annual survey comes out.

Thompson RCMP detachment officer-in-charge Insp. Chris Hastie was the guest speaker at the chamber’s virtual meeting, providing an overview of the detachment and statistics to show how 2020 stacked up against other recent years.

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Promoted to become the official top cop in the Thompson detachment late last year, Hastie was well prepared for the role after serving as acting officer-in-charge following the departure of Insp. Brian Edmonds for a position with Manitoba RCMP North District. Prior to that, Hastie was the staff sergeant operations supervisor and before that, sergeant in charge of the general investigation section. His current posting in Thompson began in 2017, but he previously served here about 10 years ago and has also been posted in Gillam and Shamattawa, as well as in Newfoundland and Labrador, which is close to his home province of Nova Scotia.

“Most of my 16 years of service in the RCMP have been in the City of Thompson,” said Hastie, who is in charge of 28 general duty officers at the Thompson RCMP detachment, as well as the six-member general investigation section, which focuses on organized crime, drug trafficking and other serious crimes, the two-member public community relations unit, and one traffic services constable. He also oversees the 10-member Thompson rural detachment, which provides policing services from Paint Lake Provincial Park, Thicket Portage and Pikwitonei in the south to Brochet, Lac Brochet, Tadoule Lake and Split Lake in the north.

For the upcoming fiscal year, which begins April 1, the detachment’s priorities include reducing crime via drug trafficking enforcement and targeting prolific offenders. The general investigation section charged more than 60 people with drug trafficking offences last year and Hastie says that limiting the amount of drugs on the street, particularly cocaine, impacts associated crimes as well.

“A lot of the violent crime that we see in Thompson is linked to the drug trade,” Hastie said.

The general investigation section also has one member focus on prolific offender checks, which entails knocking on the doors of people frequently involved with the courts to ensure that they are living where they’ve been ordered to and obeying their curfew and other conditions.

“It’s a way to make sure that people that are causing all of the issues, especially the serious criminal issues, are held accountable for their actions and it’s also a good way to minimize their involvement in crime,” Hastie said.

Another focus for the RCMP is keeping roads safe by enforcing impaired driving laws. Thompson averages about 100 impaired driving charges a year recently, though it dropped somewhat in 2020, partly due to the new option for officers to issue immediate driving prohibitions instead of simply laying charges, depending on the circumstances, as well as the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic and of Thompson RCMP traffic services Const. Ryan Flemming, who issued 1,500 tickets by himself in the past year, including more than 450 for driving unregistered vehicles, 143 for driving without a valid driver’s licence, 96 for driving with a suspended licence and apprehended 13 people prohibited by court orders from driving

“He’s had great success during his patrols across the city of Thompson as well as on the highways ,” says Hastie. 

Two of of the detachment’s objectives for the next year aren’t focused on reducing crime but on fostering better relations with Indigenous people and how best to deal with generally law-abiding people who end up on the wrong side of the law.

“We are a very junior RCMP detachment; a lot of people here this is their first exposure to Indigenous policing so I think it’s beneficial to have more … cultural awareness education activities with the members to gain a sense of policing here in Thompson, policing in the north and understanding our key partners here in Thompson,” says Hastie.

A new objective this year is to divert more people into restorative justice programs instead of the formal court system.

“One of my priorities this year is to really take a hard look at who we’re introducing to the criminal justice system and really pushing the alternative of restorative justice referrals,” Hastie says.

Looking over the last few years, 2019 was an outlier that led to Thompson’s CSI score rocketing up in the latest version of the StatsCan survey, which was released last fall.

“The spike in crime rate in 2019 was directly related to an increase in violent persons crime,” said Hastie. “I know I’ve heard people talk about the year of the machete and violence like that and crimes such as armed robberies and robberies and break and enters. They weigh heavily on the Crime Severity Index and that led to its significant spike.”

In 2018, for example, there were 34 robbery complaints compared to 94 in 2019 and 79 last year. Breaking and entering has also seen a big swing, from 105 in 2018 to 208 the following year then back down to 81 in 2020. Assaults were also significantly higher in 2019 than in the preceding and following years at 1,714, compared to 1,366 in 2018 and 1,440 in 2020.

“There has been a decrease in the general volume of violent crime,” said Hastie. “I think that’ll be reflected in next year’s CSI. I’m anticipating that the crime rate as well as the Crime Severity Index should become more consistent with 2017 where it was 338 and 2018 where it was 367, not 501.9 where it was in 2019.”

In recent years, Thompson RCMP have responded to an average of about 20,000 calls for service per year, with a quarter to a third relating to pubic intoxication, disturbances and mischief. An average of about 6,000 prisoners are lodged per year in Thompson RCMP cells, though in 2019 it reached nearly 7,400 bwhile in 2020 it was less than the average. As of the morning of March 24, only 906 prisoners have been lodged in 2021, a 3,600-per-year pace

“We’ll see how this year plays out when the [pandemic] restrictions are relaxed,” said Hastie, noting that nearly half of those lodged this year have been intoxicated persons, compared to abot 42 per cent last year and 37 per cent in 2019.

In addition to his duties as detachment commander, Hastie is also co-chair of the community safety and well being committee, which has been working with consultants on a public safety strategy due to be released to the public soon. Picking up intoxicated people and taking them to the drunk tank isn’t the best use of RCMP officer’s time, he says, nor beneficial for those being lodged.

“There has to be a better way forward to help these people as far as having better services,” Hastie said. “I really think we as a city have to get behind the initiative of the sobering centre as the answer.”

StreetReach North is an example of a non-police agency helping to alleviate pressure on RCMP resources while providing better service to the clients they cater to – youth who are vulnerable to exploitation.

“In 2018, we had almost 2,600 reports of missing persons,” said Hastie, and most were for AWOL youth, “Last year we had just under 1,500 and a lot of this is the work of the StreetReach team here in Thompson.”

Having more city community safety officers (CSOs) – there are currently only two, while at one time there were as many as eight and the city currently budgets for four – would also free up resources so RCMP could focus on more serious crimes than public intoxication and other nuisance complaints.

“We as a whole are overtaxed on the best of days,” Hastie said.”Having a full complement of CSOs would really offset the demand on the police here in Thompson.”

In response to a question from a chamber member, Hastie estimated general duty officers in the detachment probably work about seven to 10 overtime hours per week.

He also discounted the effectiveness of shame tactics such as naming offenders in police press releases as a deterrent to crime, noting that one person who has been named in press releases in the past was recently arrested for drug trafficking for at least the third time.

“Naming people doesn’t really work, I don’t think,” he said, and can also perpetuate stereotypes. “You name someone and it depicts certain people as being linked to [crime.]”

In response to another question, Hastie said the federal government prohibiting assault-type rifles last year likely wouldn’t have much effect on people in Thompson.

“Most people who legally possess firearms in this area are compliant,” he said. Those who aren’t are often linked to the drug trade.

“There is evidence of gun trafficking here in Thompson,” he said. “Guns are traded for drugs and those guns are traded to other people, etc. People do traffic in handguns or are in possession of handguns for their participation in this trade.”

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