DAWSON CREEK, B.C. — Dawson Creek detachment commander Staff Sgt. Rob Hughes says criminals are more likely to respond with violence when caught, a noticeable change over the past twenty years of policing.
Hughes noted the observation while appearing as a delegation at the Peace River Regional District’s August 17th meeting, where he introduced himself to the board.
“Unfortunately, criminals are becoming more violent. There’s a proven benefit for them to try and get away now,” he said.
“20 years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, we would catch the bad guy or the bad girl, and it was just ‘That’s it, I give up. You got me’ and that, I don’t want to say mutual respect, but for lack of a long drawn out conversation, there was sort of a mutual respect where once we caught somebody, that was it.”
The trend has shifted to using violence to escape, and Hughes says Dawson Creek officers have been dealing with it in their duties. However, Hughes hopes to increase visibility and police presence through patrols as a potential deterrent and noted the detachment is only a phone call away.
It’s been three months since Hughes arrived in the South Peace, and he says his guiding philosophy is to meet with community partners as much as they need. He added that he will always make time to attend meetings and engage with anyone who has questions or concerns.
Hughes has enjoyed a long career in front-line policing, first in Richmond, followed by Langley, Surrey, Newton, and finally, Princeton for the past four and a half years, where he was promoted to commander of the ten-person detachment. Hughes replaces Staff Sgt. Damon Werrell who’s moved on to a new post.
Area B Director Jordan Kealy asked Hughes about the appearance of 3D printed guns in the Peace Region, if they’ve been seen in the rural areas, and how RCMP monitor the effectiveness of their presence during patrols.
“When I saw that, it was kind of alarming because that brings a new level of sophistication. I was wondering if that is a trend that you’re starting to see in more rural areas,” said Kealy.
Hughes said 3D-printed guns have been seen in Fort St. John and are starting to appear in the South Peace. He noted that the issue has yet to be fully addressed under the criminal code — 3D-printed guns are treated the same as air-soft or BB guns until used in an offence.
“The issue that we have with a 3D printed gun is from a legal standpoint until it’s used in an offence and perceived to be a firearm, it’s no different than an air-soft gun or BB gun that anyone can buy from Canadian Tire,” said Hughes, noting that it’s easier to apply the law when someone has a court order not to possess a firearm or firearm imitation.
“Outside the commission of offences, our hands are kind of tied, there’s not really a whole lot that we can do,” he added.
Directors also inquired about the possibility of a regional crime reduction unit. Hughes said a business case is still being made through Fort St. John, but he has received a first draft. The intent is to have the section full-time and provincially funded.
Dawson Creek Mayor Darcy Dober says he would support a unit, noting he thought the previous crime reduction unit was very effective.
“I can’t speak on behalf of this board, but I think if there was something we could do to support that or with the RCMP, that there is value to the whole area and region for that. I think that would be something we would probably look at as a board to help be a voice,” said Dober.
Fort St. John Mayor Lilia Hansen expressed concern over the potential loss of police General Investigation Section (GIS) resources.
“I do not want to see any of our GIS resources being moved out of the Peace Region that is servicing the Peace Region,” she said. “It is not the same thing, having an officer here in this area versus having them in Prince George.”
Hughes says no GIS resources are being moved to Prince George. GIS will remain in Dawson Creek, but he noted front-line is the priority, with officers sometimes having to put GIS on hold until emergencies have been handled.
“There’s no intention of moving them out anywhere, they are here. The crew position, the crime reduction unit is managed through the GIS model,” he said.
Area E Director Dan Rose asked Hughes if there’s any interest from the RCMP to meet oil and gas operators in the Groundbirch area, an industry which has been targeted by criminals stealing materials from oil and gas sites.
“There’s a lot of vandalism and theft that happens on those rural oil and gas sites. That would probably help boost your numbers and maybe get you some more resources,” he said, noting that an RCMP member was directly assigned to the rural areas in years past.
Rose also asked if Hughes would be available to attend a meeting this winter for the Groundbirch area and help establish a rural crime watch there.
“I will always make time,” said Hughes. “If someone wants me to attend a meeting, I just need to know about them. Preferably a few weeks in advance so that I can schedule them.”
However, Hughes noted that they do not have a dedicated rural member, but he hopes they can reach that point in the future. RCMP is currently amid a member shortage, not just in Dawson Creek but nationwide.
Pouce Coupe Mayor Danielle Veach commended Hughes for the RCMP’s presence and friendly appearance during the week of Dawson’s Creek Exhibition and Rodeo, asking if there was any uptick in crime during the event.
Hughes said outside of a few unrelated incidents, the public was incredibly well-behaved and was happy to staff RCMP officers just to walk the fairgrounds to engage with residents.
“That was a dedicated shift for them to focused on nothing other than on walking around, police presence, interacting with the public,” said Hughes, noting he’s asked officers to do more than just wave hello but to be personable and stop to chat with residents.