Columbia Valley RCMP face staffing shortages

Columbia Valley RCMP Staff Sgt. Marko Shehovac discussed gang violence in the Columbia Valley at a community meeting on Thursday (May 31).

At a meeting with members of the Columbia Valley Action Team on Thursday (May 31) to discuss gang violence in the Columbia Valley, Columbia Valley RCMP Staff Sgt. Marko Shehovac touched on a wide range of issues, but also asked that the local communities become more active monitoring issues through citizen patrols.

As the detachment has been shorthanded for a number of years, recent additional officer movement away from the Columbia Valley means the detachment will have to decide what kinds of calls they can — and can’t — afford to spend their time on.

“The present situation at the detachment… is an influx of changes,” Shehovac said.

One officer has already left the detachment, two others are expected to leave by September and a further officer is receiving specialized training in Ontario for the next two months, according to Shehovac.

“With how busy the summer is, I actually sat down and said, ‘You know what guys, because you aren’t giving us the extra bodies, we cannot be everything to everyone,’” Shehovac said. “Certain things are going to have to come off the table.”

Shehovac said he would like his remaining officers’ time to be spent dealing with the more major crimes, such as violent crime and most importantly the drug trade, which is an ongoing concern in the Columbia Valley. To this effect, he said a decision will have to be made very shortly about what kinds of calls an officer will actually be able to attend in person.

“Every detachment is really hurting when it comes to manpower issues, and the ability to investigate and have that manpower out on the street,” Shehovac said. “That’s right now where I have to decide for this summer what to take off our plate and still be able to serve the community.”

As for the topic of the meeting — gangs and gang violence — Shehovac was extremely leery of describing the Columbia Valley groups as gangs. He said to call them a gang would imply a certain level of organization and even intelligence, which he feels the dedicated criminals in the Columbia Valley lack. There are two specific groups the detachment is aware of and monitoring, he said, but the community should not feel particularly threatened by either. The two local groups focus mainly on the drug trade, Shehovac said, which was to be a reoccurring theme as the meeting went on.

“Certainly in the valley, there is a strong appetite for drugs,” Shehovac said. “Cocaine in particular.”

Marijuana is also an issue in the valley, and Shehovac said that while the detachment hasn’t been focusing on locating marijuana grow-ops, he does have an officer trained in infra red location techniques.

“We win a few battles, but it’s certainly not a war that we’re going to win,” Shehovac said, referring to what is commonly known as the war on drugs. “There’s always going to be an appetite there.”