Questions remain about planned Niverville RCMP detachment

·10 min read

Some time in the first half of 2023, as previously announced, the rapidly expanding town of Niverville will finally get its own RCMP detachment.

The new station will be built on the same campus as Niverville’s municipal offices.

A few new details have come to light about the this plan, although there are still a significant number of unanswered questions.

Currently, people from Niverville have to travel the 23 kilometres to St. Pierre to access administrative services, such as criminal record checks, fingerprinting, and special occasion licenses.

Mayor Myron Dyck says that plans are being worked out to offer some of these administrative services at the Niverville office, but so far it’s unknown precisely which ones will be available here.

Also, there are no plans for the detachment in Niverville to include any holding cells.

The cost of this new endeavour is also unknown, but Mayor Dyck notes that it would have cost more for the town to establish its own independent police force, based on a study which was done in 2018.

“The RCMP cost is based on population,” says Mayor Dyck. “[The cost to] Niverville has been at $250,000 for the past years. This new census will see our population jump, and thus the percentage of the total cost jumps. Somewhere above $500,000 is our expectation.”

The study referenced by Dyck was a 30-page report prepared by Rick Hiebert, the former police chief for the city of Winkler. The town received it in December 2018.

This report was commissioned in large part in response to the efforts in July 2017 by a pair of local residents, Barry Piasta and Lindsay Unrau, who petitioned the town to pay for a comprehensive review of the town’s policing options. That petition garnered 540 signatures.

The Citizen has requested the opportunity to view this study more than once, but both Dyck and town CAO Eric King have declined, citing copyright issues.

Outside of an executive summary provided by the town in 2019, the full study has never been released.

Number of Officers

When the new detachment opens, a team of officers will be based in Niverville, although they will remain under the command of the staff sergeant in St. Pierre.

According to Mayor Dyck, there are currently 14 officers based out of St. Pierre. Four, or potentially more, officers are anticipated to be stationed in Niverville permanently. Niverville’s officers would be in addition to the current squad.

Some concern has been expressed that there simply will not be enough RCMP officers available to fill the positions in Niverville.

In March 2020, the RCMP Training Depot in Regina, Saskatchewan closed down for almost three months due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 600 officers in training were left hanging. All of them have now completed their training, but the effects of that delay may be felt for some time to come in the recruitment of new officers.

Rising Crime

There is little reason to doubt that Niverville needs a stronger policing presence.

Statistics compiled by the RCMP show that property crime has been on the rise in the Niverville area.

In fact, it rose steeply between 2019 and 2020.

Property crime in the region in 2020 was up 21 per cent from 2019. Theft over $5,000 saw a whopping 76 per cent increase between 2019 and 2020. Both break-and-enter and theft under $5,000 rose a small amount in that time period as well.

Several Niverville residents have been willing to share stories of how recent crime has affected them.

One local resident, who prefers to be identified by only his first name, witnessed a concerning incident in November 2020.

Brett says that he happened to notice a white work van at a set of community mailboxes at around 3:00 a.m. one night. As he drove towards the van, two men jumped into it and the vehicle drove away.

“I thought that was weird, so I followed them,” Brett says.

The van was driven down a dead-end street, so Brett parked nearby with his lights off.

Approximately 15 minutes later, the van came out of the bay and proceeded to stop at another mailbox.

“I watched them get out and start fumbling with the box,” he says. “Trying to break in. I turned on my light bar and pulled up and they ripped out of town. I pursued and called the RCMP. I followed them to St. Adolphe, then down back roads, but in the end the RCMP told me to stop pursuing and go home. By the time I got back to Niverville, the RCMP were driving around town.”

By that time, though, the perpetrators were long gone.

Brett feels that if there had been an RCMP detachment in town, the would-be thieves would have been caught.

Machete Attack

Another Niverville resident, Bonny Fehr, has a good reason to want a police presence closer to home.

In the wee hours of the morning on January 3, 2017, she was lying in bed when she heard a loud bang outside her home. She peeked out the window and noticed that a door to her garage was open and a light was on.

She screamed to her husband Bob that someone was in their garage.

Bob and Bonny ran outside and Bob yelled at the intruders to leave. The intruders seemed to listen and two of them walked out past the Fehrs.

The third one, however, stopped and stared at Bob. After a moment, the man’s hands went up in the air—and it became clear that he was holding something.

“He brought it down so fast as Bob put his arm up to defend himself,” Bonny says. “I saw a machete and knew he was going to seriously hurt my husband. I was screaming at the top of my lungs for him to stop! He raised the machete again as I screamed to him to please not kill my husband and just leave. He lowered the machete, not striking Bob. Then the three of them casually walked down our driveway and off into the night.”

Bonny ran inside her home to call 911 and Bob followed.

Once inside, they could see that Bob would need medical attention quickly.

“He was dripping blood everywhere and I could see the gaping hole in his arm,” she says. “We were told to apply pressure with towels over the wound.”

As Bonny continued to apply pressure to her husband’s arm, she received a call from the RCMP.

She received some bad news: the road conditions were very bad and it was going to take them a while to get to the scene.

“I was panicked and concerned with the amount of towels we were going through,” Bonny continues. “We knew the ambulance was at the end of our street waiting. I couldn’t understand why they weren’t coming to help. I learned later that they are unable to enter the scene of a crime unless it’s cleared first by police.”

It was 45 long minutes until the RCMP arrived with the ambulance right behind, although both Bonny and Bob say that the RCMP were nothing short of amazing.

“They took the time to talk to me even after Bob was discharged,” she says. “They were always willing to give updates when I called and even calmed me down when I cried over the phone from feeling overwhelmed.”

In retrospect, the Fehrs feel that they were lucky.

And they’re grateful to hear about a new detachment coming to town.

“I will feel safer knowing that the RCMP [will be] right here,” Bonny says. “I am excited to have a detachment here.”

Unanswered Questions

It’s clear that Niverville needs a more significant police presence, but another local resident feels that the new detachment may not be quite what’s needed.

Lindsay Unrau was one of the people to spearhead the police study petition in 2017, and she ran for town council in 2014 on a platform that relied heavily on improving policing in Niverville.

Although she didn’t get elected, she has continued to doggedly pursue the public safety cause in the several years since.

Unrau wonders if implementing the new RCMP detachment as it’s currently been described will actually change how crime is enforced in Niverville.

She feels that there are two major objectives to implementing a local police station.

The first objective is visibility.

“An effective way to deter crime is to create a visible landmark that will say to potential criminals who would attempt to make Niverville their target, they will be caught by local enforcement—quickly,” Unrau says. “The problem here is that the current plan is to open a small office in the Niverville town office. This will not be a regularly sized RCMP station. This will be similar to what we currently have, a satellite office located beside the fire hall. Nobody really knows that it’s there and therefore nobody really cares. To be a meaningful deterrent, we need a standalone building that has its lights on and is staffed 24/7 with exemplary signage.”

The second objective of a local police station, as Unrau sees it, is to have an effective and efficient response time.

She stresses that the current wait times are in no way the fault of RCMP officers. The problem, rather, is that the St. Pierre detachment covers such a massive area that it’s physically impossible for them to always be where they need to be.

“This station is not going to be an independently run station that will only manage Niverville’s community,” Unrau points out. “It is simply an extension of the St. Pierre dispatch. Therefore, an officer working within Niverville could be as far away as St. Malo when an urgent call comes in for Niverville depending on the current call volume. There will be four officers stationed in Niverville, but my understanding is that that does not mean that there will be four officers in station all at once. Four officers will rotate shifts so that there will always be at least one officer working at a time. Will one officer be enough, especially if it’s more than certain that they won’t always be in town covering our community? Really, that’s nothing more than what we have currently.”

As Mayor Dyck has acknowledged, the results of the latest census will reveal with certainty that Niverville will have to pay more for protective services.

“This additional amount of taxpayer money doesn’t promise more deterrence or better response time,” Unrau says. “It simply means that the RCMP recognize that they may need to come to Niverville more often for emergent services. However, if our town council is going to settle on an RCMP station instead of an independent police department and charge the citizens more money for this decision, they need to be able to market it in a way to compel residents to believe that it’s something better.”

Nonetheless, Unrau is cautiously optimistic about the new plan.

She hopes that the town council will commit to a 10-year plan which sees our local RCMP office grow in size to become something more independent of the St. Pierre detachment.

“Ensuring that it covers Niverville and only, say, a 20-kilometre radius would make me feel a lot more optimistic,” she says.

Jennifer Lavin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen

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