RCMP Constables Joanie Sidhu and Katrina Harnett parked their cruisers and tightened up the laces of their boots last week to patrol Mission’s downtown.
As they walked, they stopped every few minutes to talk to area residents, shoppers, and merchants. It’s a way for them to get to know the community and gather intelligence to update files. They also don’t mind helping out when they can.
On Thursday, they helped move a homeless woman off private property.
“She had a lot of stuff with her,” said Harnett, noting business owners are usually hesitant to approach people in her situation. She recognized it was hard for the woman too, and the partners offered as much assistance as they could.
Earlier in the day, library staff brought the pair’s attention to a man panhandling in the vicinity and scaring children. It didn’t take long for Sidhu and Harnett to spot the man from the photograph they were shown and explain to him his actions were making others uncomfortable.
“He was very cooperative,” said Sidhu.
Most people are happy to see a police presence in the area, added Harnett. “We get a lot of positive reaction.”
Mounties launched the foot patrols in May, coinciding with plans to revitalize downtown.
“It’s a good alignment with the city’s initiative. We have to help with the transition,” said Mission RCMP Insp. Richard Konarski, who hopes to eliminate as many conflicts as possible with various user groups.
Some people have reservations about coming downtown because of past issues, but there has been a significant change over the last two months, added Sgt. Shaun Wright, noting there are less people congregating in the area as last year.
There will still be people hanging out, but not the ones that were predatory or causing distress in the community, noted Konarski.
Police have been working with a crime analyst to determine when and where the most calls for service take place and strategically schedule foot patrols.
“If we understand the pattern, why not get there ahead of time?” the inspector said.
Police also use the information they gather to build stronger cases and flag people who cause nuisance in the area, like panhandling or petty thefts.
The strategy is working, according to the Mounties.
Police used to frequently get called to the breezeway on the east side of Magnolia’s on Main, but Konarski explained it was he who was doing the apologizing the last time he was there.
A woman was sitting there with a book when Konarski approached and he jokingly asked if she was causing any problems.
“She said it was a nice quiet place to read and I had to apologize for interrupting her,” he explained.
The RCMP will continue to patrol downtown on foot until at least the fall, when the program, along with its funding, will be reviewed.