A new unit targeting sexual assault and domestic violence has been launched in Grande Prairie.
The RCMP Special Investigative Unit (SIU) is using different policing tactics that are more survivor-oriented.
Survivors of incidents now have more control over how an investigation is conducted, said Corporal Lianne Bilodeau, Grande Prairie RCMP SIU.
“It's really giving that survivor the options of what's available and what we can do for them and then letting them choose where it goes, instead of forcing what we think and how we think the investigation should go,” said Bilodeau.
“If they're not ready to come forward quite yet, but they want us to know about the incident, then we allow the survivor that control over whether the charges are going to be laid now or those can be held off until they're more in an emotional space that they're ready to go forward with it.
“Before, if we had the evidence, police would display the charge, or if the police felt there wasn't enough evidence or the Crown told us that there was no likelihood of conviction, we weren't laying criminal charges.”
She said that not all cases lead to criminal charges and that some people want to come in to have their stories heard, and they can then receive support and get counselling.
“For domestic violence, Grande Prairie has the highest reported rating for any RCMP detachments in the Alberta and then for sexual violence offences (Grande Prairie) came in second to Red Deer,” said Bilodeau.
She noted the variance was only about a difference of 20 calls with the Red Deer detachment.
People have trouble reporting such crimes due to feeling ashamed, embarrassed, or not supported by friends, family or the police, she said.
“I think there's a lot of negative connotations from the past that prevents a lot of people coming forward to report,” said Bilodeau.
“We're trying to show that there is there is support and that we are going to take the time and we are going to investigate it thoroughly, and we do want to be there and to help support the survivors and help them move forward in their lives.”
SIU is given more time to work on sexual violence and domestic abuse cases, freeing up the workload from general duty officers and allowing for more time and expertise in attaining follow-ups from witnesses, attaining search warrants, and completing the additional file work.
The specialized unit also sees a large number of child abuse cases, and the officers have received additional training in child forensic interviewing, along with trauma-informed training and specialized training to identify the different needs of survivors.
The RCMP works along with the Victim Services Unit, which is connected with different support agencies in the city such as PACE, Catholic Counselling services, Odyssey House, and the John Howard Society, said Bilodeau.
“It is overwhelming to try and figure out what the next steps are.
“SIU can also help assist with any court appearances or updates with what's going on if charges have been laid with their investigations, so they work as a liaison to help connect those different supports.”
SIU started a pilot project in Grande Prairie in 2020 and has transitioned into a full-time unit within the detachment after its successful first year.
The Alberta RCMP is now looking to expand SIU units to other detachments in the province.
Wood Buffalo RCMP has now added an SIU unit; Airdrie, Parkland and Strathcona County are currently developing the positions.
The Alberta RCMP says, “if you are a survivor of, or witness to, sexual or domestic violence or any criminal activity, please report it to local police or contact your nearest community-based Victim Services agency for appropriate support and to learn about your reporting options.”
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News