At work with the RCMP

Reporter Sally MacDonald goes undercover with members of the Cranbrook detachment overnight on Sam Steele weekend

RCMP question two young men

RCMP question two young men

One hundred and twenty-six years ago, Superintendent Sam Steele of the North West Mounted Police arrived at Galbraith’s Ferry, present-day Fort Steele, to dispense law and order.

Today, his brothers and sisters in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police do the very same job on the mean streets of Cranbrook – though undoubtedly with very different measures.

So it seemed fitting for this reporter to ride along with Cranbrook’s RCMP on this past Sam Steele weekend to follow a day (or, in this case, night) in the life of a local cop.

Given the amount of revelry Cranbrook engages in on our annual festival weekend, I was expecting my shift with the RCMP from 9 p.m. on Saturday, June 15 to 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, June 16 to be an eventful one.

That’s usually the case on Sam Steele Days, Cst. Ken Hagen tells me. The busiest Cranbrook’s drunk tank has ever been was on Sam Steele Days three years ago, when there were 24 people sleeping it off on the heated floors of the sparse cell.

But this past Sam Steele Saturday was actually a very uneventful night (well, until 15 minutes after I went home, but we’ll get to that). One constable told me they’ve had Tuesday nights busier than last Saturday night.

When I arrive at 9 p.m., watch commander Cst. Hagen is at the detachment, while four constables and two auxiliary constables are out patrolling the city.

They are already three hours into a 12-hour shift. Each RCMP member works four 12-hour shifts — two day shifts from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., followed by two night shifts from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.— then has four days off.

Cranbrook’s detachment has 20 general-duty members, plus one First Nations constable, one community policing constable, two in the forensic identification section, three plain clothes officers, and two in managerial positions.

Calls come in from the dispatch centre in Kelowna. When someone calls 911 or calls the detachment phone number after hours, it gets put through to dispatch. They create a file and send it on to an officer on that watch.

The call will come in over the radio at the same time that the file is sent to the officer’s computer. Anyone listening can hear the call, and if possible more than one officer will respond to the call.

In a smaller city like Cranbrook, there is a lot of community policing work, Cst. Hagen explains, that larger centres wouldn’t deal with. For instance, during my time with the police on Saturday, Kimberley RCMP were three times called to a house with a barking dog. In Calgary or Vancouver, those calls would not be attended.

We head down to the cells, located in the basement of the detachment. Cst. Hagen tells me that when they bring someone into custody, they drive straight into the belly of the building and close the garage doors behind them to make it harder for a prisoner to escape.

The person in custody is taken through to the cells, where they hand over their personal belongings and have a mug shot taken. Then they are put into a one-person cell, or into the drunk tank if they are intoxicated but not likely to be charged.

Also doing a 12-hour shift, guard Tom conducts periodic visual checks of each prisoner. In between, he monitors them on a computer screen with footage from a series of cameras. There are three people in custody tonight: one intoxicated person, one doing an intermittent sentence on weekends, and one who has been transferred from jail in Kamloops to appear in court the following week.

Cst. Hagen and I head out to his vehicle, fitted with a mobile data terminal that shows every file RCMP are attending to on this watch. The terminal is mounted over the centre console so the officer can easily use it. As well as the information about the call, the officer can see a map to the location, and there’s an instant messaging function for the RCMP to discretely communicate with one another.

We begin to patrol Cranbrook just as dusk settles. There are still a lot of people out and about, although these are the hours between the fair grounds shutting up shop and the beer gardens waking up.

The Cranbrook detachment’s area stretches from Wycliffe and Fort Steele Farm in the north, to halfway between Moyie and Yahk in the southwest, and to just beyond Jaffray in the east.

We hear on the scanner that a constable and auxiliary are out at Moyie where someone has reported a man driving away from the pub so intoxicated that he left the passenger side door open. By the time the RCMP reach Moyie, there is no sign of him.

Meanwhile, we stop by the curling centre, where 14 security guards are getting ready for the beer gardens to get lively. It’s around 9:30 p.m., and people are beginning to trickle into the venue, although it will be at least an hour before the live music begins.

We drive past the Kinsmen ball quads, which are packed but not too rowdy.

Near Moir Park, we see a road check by the RCMP’s East Kootenay traffic division. Also located in Cranbrook, on Theatre Road, this department is completely separate to but works closely with the Cranbrook detachment.

Dispatch lets Cst. Hagen know that someone has called in a group of young men allegedly checking the locks on car doors and front doors on 4th Street South. We head over and see three young men walking in the area. We pull up beside them, and the guys say they are just walking to the beer gardens, but they did see a group of teenage boys a few blocks back.

As we drive up the hill, a man comes out of a yard and hails us down. It was the guys we had just spoken to that he saw trying doors. Cst. Hagen radios the information to the other officers on their way, and does a quick U-turn to return to the young men. He stops with his headlights on them as another police vehicle pulls up beside them.

Identification is taken, but none of the guys has outstanding arrest warrants and they deny any wrongdoing. After a chat with the RCMP, they are allowed to continue on their way.

We head back to the curling centre, where Cst. Hagen is taking a call from the family of a man in custody. His son wants to know what happened. Cst. Hagen explains that his dad’s car was impounded, and tells the son that he can come and pick up his father because he’s sober enough to go home.

As the beer gardens begin to close, I notice the large number of people waiting for taxis, and the few taxis that come to pick them up. It’s a problem, Cst. Hagen says, because sometimes people will give up and get behind the wheel instead, or they will start walking in their intoxicated state, sometimes leading to mischief and vandalism.

There’s a call over dispatch about an assault near Knox Presbyterian. A couple was walking home with a woman they encountered along the way. Suddenly, the woman’s husband appears and punches the other guy in the face because he believes his wife is having an affair with him. The RCMP diffuse the situation, making sure the guy who was hit doesn’t need medical attention, and take the husband into custody. They later learn that there is a warrant out for his arrest in Alberta. Cst. Hagen drives the woman home.

We continue to cruise the bars downtown. As people flood out of the closing venues, I’m struck by the number of people who smile and wave at the RCMP as they walk by. Many stick their head in the car windows to thank Cst. Hagen for his work. “Thanks for keeping us safe,” one young man says.

Next, we visit a condo complex where two other constables are putting a stop to a domestic incident between a volatile couple well known to police. It’s rarely violent, Cst. Hagen says, but they often need police to intervene. Police take the intoxicated gentleman into custody to sober up and calm down.

At around 2:30 a.m., there’s a call for a fight in Baker Park. A group of people leaving the curling centre came across a smaller group of teenage boys with bikes and skateboards. The encounter gets rough and one of the boys hits a man in the head with his skateboard. As police are called, the boys flee.

We track them down outside Mount Baker Secondary. After checking their belongings, the boys are warned and told to make their way home. As they leave, RCMP sweep the area to see if they stashed anything in the bushes. They had – another boy pops up as the flashlight sweeps over him. He tried to stay hidden to avoid trouble.

Cst. Hagen and I head back downtown, where the streets are deserted except for a few stragglers wandering home. Even the area in front of Shotgun Willy’s is deserted. We swing by another police vehicle and pull alongside. The officer comments that they’ve either gotten off easy this night, or something is about to happen.

But my eyes are stinging from tiredness, and it sure looks quiet, so I decide to call it a night.

Cst. Hagen drops me at my vehicle and I head home. As I’m getting into bed, I hear sirens. Six hours with the RCMP and they hadn’t once needed sirens. Fifteen minutes after I leave, when they’ve finally let themselves think it’s been a quiet night, they get called to a stabbing near Kootenay Street, which was reported earlier this week in the Townsman.

I’m hardly an expert after one six-hour ride-along, but it seems to me that police work is made up of five parts patience, four parts listening, and one part courage.