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“We are at a critical state,”: PG’s top cop says job demands, staffing shortages pushing officers to the limit

Prince George RCMP Superintendent Shaun Wright says crime and calls for service dropped between 5 and 7%, bringing them back to levels that were seen in 2020.

In a Year In Review interview with Vista Radio, Wright mentioned while there wasn’t a specific neighborhood that saw a dramatic spike, they have put a lot of time and resources into areas where homeless encampments exist.

“Our resources have been drawn into areas where some of the homeless encampments are so like Lower Patricia and 1st and Queensway for calls of situations of disorder and disturbances more than crime.”

Last month, a fire at the North Star Inn claimed a life and seriously injured two other people.

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Wright said police are responding to that area more often again due to one reason.

“Anecdotally, our calls for service there are rising. I think that is due in large part to the occupancy of that premises being more fully occupied on a regular basis than perhaps it was a few years ago.”

In May 2016, when it was called the Connaught Motor Inn, the city pulled the hotel’s business license due to crime and security risks.

During the suspension, crime in that area declined by 67%.

The hotel reopened and changed its name in May 2018.

Wright added police and the city won’t hesitate to shut the facility down again if public safety is being put at risk.

“We’ve been in discussions with both bylaw and fire to cooperatively share data with regards to what I would consider problem or high-volume locations where we are experiencing a high number of calls between the three agencies. If something is excessive we will escalate it to city council in a similar fashion to how the Connaught was.”

“We are working with the motel owner as well as bylaws and some partner agencies to address those emerging concerns.”

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In addition, a recent review suggests 19 more officers are needed over the next few years for the local detachment.

It was conducted by Curt Griffiths Research and Consulting which also stated about 20 percent of the officers in this detachment are off and not deployable, which is near the provincial average.

Wright stated the demands of the job are only getting worse when compared to other similar-sized cities.

“If you look at the statistics with the crime rates and the caseload burden per member here compared to communities such as Kamloops, Kelowna, and Nanaimo – it’s dramatic and the contrast is very stark and we are at a critical state.”

Furthermore, the mental health and well-being of detachment members are finally being put into the spotlight.

“Dealing with a lot of the trauma from the incidents we go to was really ignored years ago and there is a lot of added pressure nowadays. The expectations of society and individuals are much higher for police and there is a great deal of scrutiny and it causes a great deal of stress.”

Wright also agreed with the review that the detachment is taking a “siloed” approach when it comes to agencies and organizations working separately than collectively.

“I don’t disagree that the description is somewhat applicable. I think in large part, it’s due to regards to the police, is because of us having to dedicate our resources to call responses and critical investigations, and doesn’t give us the capacity to partner with those other stakeholders.”

The review also used community input, which received over 1,500 responses, which found that:

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  • 79% of residents believe crime has increased
  • Feelings of being unsafe are pervasive
  • There is a hidden figure of crime due to under-reporting
  • There are gaps between public expectations of agencies and the police re community safety and perceived performance
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