Checking in on neighbours very soon after a violent police incident occurs in a residential area should be a priority for RCMP – not a week later.
That’s the take of next-door neighbour Susan Barclay Nichols. She lives in the Knight Road/Queen Street area of Chilliwack where a mental-health emergency that began on the afternoon of Victoria Day (May 22) ended with a shooting and house fire in the wee hours of the next morning.
“What happened was scary, like out of an action movie,” said Nichols. “It was not the shooting but everything around it.”
More than a week after it happened, Chilliwack RCMP Victim Services officials held an outreach meeting on Tuesday (May 30) for those still trying to process the terrifying incident.
Residents of the neighbourhood were offered a range of tools and resources available through the Chilliwack RCMP, such as victim services, or counselling referrals.
Access to firearms in the Knight Road residence is what turned the incident into a standoff with police that necessitated calling of the RCMP’s emergency response team (ERT) to assist. Neighbours reported hearing gunshots sometime before 8 p.m. as well as flash bangs. Police say shots were fired at them, and a man has since been charged. Amid the chaos, the Knight Road house where the man was a tenant, somehow ignited and burned to the ground.
Daniel Hackl, 29, was charged with one count of discharging a firearm with intent to wound or disfigure.
Victim Services and Chilliwack RCMP hosted the outreach meeting to allow the residents to ask questions and talk about any concerns about safety.
Chilliwack RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Krista Vrolyk said the neighbourhood outreach meeting went very well, and attracted almost 30 people impacted by the May 22-23 shooting and fire on Knight Road.
“Most of them were expressing sincere gratitude and appreciation for police keeping them safe during the incident,” Vrolyk said. “Obviously one individual felt that our communications with neighbours could have been better, but overall the feedback was positive.”
It was the first time local RCMP ever hosted this type of post-incident meeting for residents, which was undertaken by the ‘neighbourhood incident response support team.’
“The idea was to acknowledge that the neighbourhood has been impacted by a critical incident, which can be stressful and traumatic,” Vrolyk said.
Most of the folks who showed up were hoping to learn more details about the police investigation of the incident, but unfortunately that was not the objective of the meeting, and those details are rarely if ever released to the public lest they jeopardize the integrity of the ongoing investigation.
RCMP officials reached out to the affected community by hand-delivering flyers ahead of the meeting, as well as communications through Block Watch and with local residents immediately impacted.
“The event was also aimed at ensuring they understood the incident was not a normal event, and there are supports available.”
Keeping the community safe, as officers did on the night of the shooting and fire, sometimes means inconveniencing people, Vrolyk underlined. “And at the end of the day that’s what we have to do. Nobody wants this to happen in their neighbourhood.”
Nichols has been reflecting on the experience that left her angry, sleep-deprived and stressed five days after the incident, over being effectively ignored by the public-safety experts: the police. That’s why she opted to go to the newspaper with her story.
“Where were they? We needed someone there when we got back to the house on Tuesday. We needed someone to tell us when we could go home, or tell us something about what was happening. Or say, ‘that sucks.’”
“I get that this was a once-in-a-career thing for the officers, and they were busy with an active investigation. But they could have said ‘Hi’ at some point.”
It took from Tuesday’s investigation to Saturday before an officer came over to check on her.
“Only one officer showed any compassion for what we went through.”
Nichols did manage to speak to someone with RCMP Victim Services within 48 hours of the incident, and spoke to an RCMP spokesperson twice, and was given the range of counselling options and other resources available.
“I understand that that they don’t have a time machine, but as someone who worked with people in crisis the first rule of social work is to say: ‘I see you,’ to make a point of acknowledging it happened.
“They don’t have to take responsibility, just say sorry it happened.”
Nichols recounted how they first noticed police vehicles gathering in a nearby parking lot on Monday afternoon. A call came in to RCMP about a distraught individual with access to firearms, which put everything in motion.
They were notified that a neighbour was in mental health crisis and they would have to leave, so they grabbed some clothes, meds, and the dog, and headed out.
“We were told the rounds could go through walls.”
Other neighbours were told to shelter in place, and stay away from exterior walls.
They didn’t know where to go, so they chose the Canadian Tire parking lot to wait it out, and watch the scene from their security cameras. It might take an hour or so to be resolved, the officer told them, and that they would text them when it was over.
It ended up taking until midnight and no one texted them. By then they had rented a hotel room for the night for which they have since found out they cannot be reimbursed.
Nichols said they had no way of knowing what was happening, but their security cameras detected the movement of a towed battering ram some time after 6 p.m. Police were discharging tear gas, and flash bangs in an effort to force the individual to exit the residence.
“The only thing we knew was what we saw on our cameras.”
The roommate of the alleged shooter, her neighbour whose house burnt down, told Nichols that no one had contacted him either.
“And yet he’s the one most directly affected,” she said.
Nichols said she’s been made aware that best practices for an RCMP neighbourhood meeting is to hold it three to five days following an incident. The outreach meeting effort is a valid one, she said.
“I just think that eight days after the fact is just too late. It’s beyond inadequate.”
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