The Grizzly Gazette met with Sergeant Dean Purcka, Detachment Commander of the Swan Hills RCMP, to discuss the RCMP’s current activities and priorities in the community of Swan Hills.
Sgt. Purcka was born and raised in Yellowknife, NWT, living there until he attended the RCMP Academy, “Depot” Division in Regina, SK. He was posted to Alberta in 2003 and has lived here ever since, serving in Fox Creek, Whitecourt, and Swan Hills. Having lived in Swan Hills for around 4 ½ years now, Sgt. Purcka and his family are happy here and do not have any current plans to move on.
At the provincial level, the RCMP has been focusing on reducing property crimes and increasing community consultation.
Over the last 30 days in Swan hills, all of the criminal files that have been opened have been property crimes. One of the main themes in our conversation about reducing and successfully investigating property crimes was the importance of sharing information. Optimally the sharing of information occurs at multiple levels of the investigation, often beginning with people reporting the crimes when they occur.
Reporting crimes when they occur is critical because it is difficult for RCMP officers to effectively prevent and investigate incidents if they are unaware that an incident occurred. A report should be filed with the RCMP. The information collected in this report will help the local RCMP detachment investigate the incident. The sharing of this information with surrounding districts can, and has, led to criminals being apprehended in neighbouring districts. For example, the group that brazenly stole the ATM machine from the Husky gas station in 2019 was located in a completely different district and charged with the assistance of information that was collected in Swan Hills.
The Swan Hills RCMP Detachment works closely with the Barrhead detachment. This is beneficial to both detachments because they are in different districts and therefore do not necessarily receive the same communications. The information collected while investigating an incident goes to a local crime reduction unit to be analyzed and then to district intelligence coordinators who facilitate the sharing of information back and forth between districts and local detachments. With this intelligence-sharing arrangement, the individual RCMP detachments can operate in a concerted effort, which leads to more successful outcomes.
Unfortunately, there are some crimes that do not get reported. In some lucky cases, people have had property recovered that was never reported as stolen in the first place. Even if people are convinced that reporting a crime won’t be of any direct help, that it won’t result in a thief being arrested or stolen property being returned, reporting the crime to the RCMP is still a critical step. Sharing the information collected in an RCMP report with other detachments could be vital to a successful investigation.
It is also helpful to the RCMP’s efforts if people report people or circumstances that seem suspicious or out of place. Especially in a smaller community like Swan Hills, residents are generally pretty aware of which people and vehicles are familiar and which ones might seem out of the ordinary. Sgt. Purcka said that preventative patrols could be instituted when there appears to be a suspicious activity trend. The officers’ schedules could also be adjusted if there were a trend of crimes happening at a particular time of day or night, to be present and patrolling at that time.
Regrettably, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the works when it comes to community consultation. Before the pandemic, officers had much more opportunity to be in the community, available for informal conversations to connect with the people of Swan Hills. Many of the places that these informal meetings would happen, such as local eateries, aren’t as accessible or open to that kind of socialization under the current health restrictions. Sgt. Purcka expressed genuine regret at how the opportunities for these interactions are currently limited and an eagerness to connect with the community again in a more meaningful way when it is safe to do so.
Accountability is one of the core values of the RCMP, including to all stakeholders and clients. Sgt. Purcka stressed that he wants the public to know that they are welcome to talk to him and bring any concerns that they may have to him. He wants to ensure that the RCMP members’ investigations are good and thorough and wants to know if members of the public think that things haven’t been going well. If the people of Swan Hills are running into issues with the RCMP, please bring these concerns to the RCMP office.
Ideally, Sgt. Purcka would like to be able to have an in-person town hall to meet with and connect with members of the community, but it might be some time before that is possible due to the current health restrictions. Swan Hills FCSS had assisted the Swan Hills detachment in hosting a successful virtual town hall during the summer, and Sgt. Purcka expressed an eagerness to hold another one soon.
The Grizzly Gazette thanks the Swan Hills RCMP detachment and Sgt. Purcka for an enjoyable and very informative conversation.
Dean LaBerge, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grizzly Gazette