As my truck pulls into the parking lot of the Mission RCMP detachment, I can see a Constable standing outside, waiting patiently for my arrival.
The officer has kindly agreed to be my personal guide on a general-duty ride-along. No special investigations have been planned, no big busts or warrants to process; it’s just a normal night on a random day.
After a brief introduction and some paperwork – ensuring that if I am somehow injured the RCMP are not liable – I don my bulletproof jacket and join the officer in his police car.
The first lesson is about the car itself. It’s equipped with a police radio, computer, side lights, spotlight, alley lights, radar and more.
“I always turn the radio volume off when I get out of the car because we don’t want people listening to what’s going on,” he explains.
As important as the radio is, the computer is likely the most valuable piece of equipment.
“The computer is where we get our calls … I can see what everybody (police) in Mission is doing. I can also see other detachments if I need to.”
What many people might not know is that the police car is also equipped with a camera.
“Every time I turn on my lights, the camera automatically turns on and captures everything.”
While the technology is interesting, the most daunting piece of equipment in the vehicle is the patrol carbine (rifle) sitting between the driver and passenger seats.
“It sits in the rack unless it’s needed. Obviously, if I’m attending a shoplifting, I’m not bringing the carbine.”
He also shows me where the emergency button is to call for help, should anything happen to him.
Mission RCMP officers work one of two shifts, either a 12-hour day shift or an 11-hour night shift.
“You never know what you‘re going to get,” he said, noting that he has attended neighbour disputes, tenancy act complaints, people lurking in the backyard, all the way up to stabbings and other violent incidents.
“We’ll have to wait and see what tonight brings.”
* * *
Our first stop of the night seems simple enough – a curfew check to ensure the individual is following the terms of his release.
After a quick knock on the door, a young man wearing an ankle bracelet comes out and talks to us.
He’s amiable enough as he answers questions, has a smoke and participates in small talk. If you didn’t know his history, you’d think he was just a regular guy. However, he is a convicted sex offender, newly released, and the RCMP will be checking on him frequently.
Despite these facts, the police officer remains courteous when dealing with him.
“I have to be professional and that’s what I do. I also find you get a better response. If you go out there and you yell at people all the time, you’re known as that guy and people don’t want to cooperate with you when you need information.”
He tries to deal with all suspects that way. It promotes a small level of trust and can help to avoid conflict later.
“Letting people have a cigarette, even when they are in custody, it means the world to them and they will open up to you. They’ll remember you.”
The man isn’t in breach of his conditions so we move on.
* * *
After driving through downtown Mission on a routine patrol, our next stop is the Haven in the Hollow, the local homeless shelter.
The constable wants to speak to a recent victim of an assault, an elderly homeless man, and inform him that his attacker is out of jail. He also wants to ensure the suspect is nowhere near the Haven.
He notes that, while many people complain about the homeless in the area, they have created their own community, with its own issues and crime.
“Stuff happens to them as well. They get beat up, they get pepper-sprayed, they get stabbed. You can’t just throw them aside; you have to investigate.”
Once inside the shelter, the officer speaks with the manager to see if the suspect has been back. Viewing security footage in the back room, it’s determined that the man has not stopped by.
However, while there, the officer notices another man who is wanted on a warrant.
Quickly confirming the man’s identity, the constable springs into action and places him under arrest.
The suspect at first shows some signs of resistance, but a firm hand on his back and a loud command changes his mind and the officer easily places him in handcuffs.
A stream of obscenities spew from the suspect as he is walked outside and into a police car that has already arrived on scene as backup. That officer will take him back to the detachment for processing.
“Five minutes of excitement, hours of paperwork.”
* * *
As the evening progresses, few calls come in and we continue to perform routine checks.
Downtown Mission is one of several hotspots for crime so we pass through on several occasions.
“It’s important that we are visible down here.”
The next stop is at a local store, which was recently robbed, to pick up some surveillance footage of the incident. From there, we head to the industrial area.
“We often find stolen vehicles down here,” he says adding that he likes to observe the area, looking for people lurking around or hiding in doorways. Sometimes cars are idling in front of businesses that have long closed. He’s looking for any suspicious behavior. Sometimes he even encounters some “bizarre” activities.
“Once, I came across two people trying to perform CPR on a skunk that was hit by a car. In what other job are you going to encounter that?”
Next, a call comes in about a possible break-in at a local church. As we rush to the scene, the call is quickly cancelled. It was determined that it was just the night janitors, coming to work on a different day than usual.
“I thought we were going to have some excitement.”
* * *
It’s almost 1 a.m. and my short ride-along is nearing an end, but there is one final stop to make.
The officer wants to show me a giant homeless encampment behind the Super Store. It’s a place many people don’t know exists.
Armed with a small flashlight, I follow my guide as we walk across the railway tracks, onto a trail and into the bushes.
It doesn’t take long before we arrive. It’s a sight that is equally amazing as it is disturbing.
As expected, there is garbage everywhere and I suspect it would seem even worse if it were daylight. Among the garbage and scrap metal are structures – not tents, but large wooden structures constructed from whatever materials could be scrounged up.
Several of the domiciles are two, even three storeys, high with ladders instead of steps. It’s a testament to adaptability.
When we announced our arrival, we were greeted not with fear, but with calmness. The people at the camp know the officer and that he’s just there to check on the situation; nobody is going to clear them off the land.
After a brief conversation, to check on the well-being of those living there, we head back to the police car knowing that everyone is safe, at least for tonight.
Homelessness is an ongoing issue and is not a problem that will be solved by the police.
* * *
My ride-along has come to an end. I get dropped off at the detachment and my guide heads back out on patrol.
He has hours left in his shift and more areas to monitor, curfews to check and people to protect.
The job never ends.
– NEXT WEEK: Crime Prevention