Estevan RCMP navigates through a difficult year

After a very different year on all fronts, Saskatchewan and the rest of the country is celebrating National Police Week from May 9-15.

The Mercury spoke to acting Estevan RCMP detachment commander Cpl. Craig Park about their experience with the pandemic year and the situation in the Estevan area.

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"It's been a challenging year for sure, given that just over a year ago, the COVID rules came down with lots of changes. Those rules, as everybody knows, are ever-changing. So trying to keep up with all that (created) a new frontier of policing, (where we are) trying to police in a pandemic like this. We've never done this before, so we were trying to figure it out as we go," said Park.

"It was for sure a challenging year, but we managed to get through it. And I think we did okay, and we're still able to provide our service and respond to calls and do so safely."

A big part of the policing job is communicating with people, which the pandemic made more challenging, with masks adding another level to it. The lack of manpower, when members had to self-isolate after being exposed to the virus also made the past year more difficult. Besides, the regular risks of working in the policing world were accompanied by additional risks created by close contacts with other people.

"It was just a stressful time on everybody," Park said. "Of course, the force does have a support system in place. And we try and talk to each other as well. And we're stuck in the office together, so we lean on each other quite a bit as well."

The Estevan RCMP had some calls related to enforcement of public health measures related to COVID-19, but Park said they mainly were working through education.

"We were trying to educate the public and trying to give people the benefit of the doubt, and use education where we can. For the most part in this area, we haven't had too many issues. It's been pretty good," Park said.

While the year was difficult for everybody, Park said in terms of crime statistics they were mainly on par with other years.

"Things for us were pretty status quo. Everybody was affected by this, and we've seen some waves throughout where it's very similar to years past, just with the added stresses of the COVID now."

But in some areas, Park said there definitely were some changes.

"The biggest rise we've seen is a rise in mental health calls for sure. We've seen a rise in some addiction issues and drug issues as well. Again, that can probably go back to stressful times. People get affected differently."

Outside of dealing with the pandemic and its after-effects, the Estevan RCMP also recently had a case where they stopped two drivers travelling side-by-side down the divided highway between Estevan and Bienfait, at a speed that Park said he's never encountered before.

The vehicles were clocked at 214 km/h and 190 km/h.

"The rules and stiff penalties are there for a reason because these aren't common speeds and you really put a lot of people at risk by driving excessive speeds like this," Park said.

Estevan RCMP is usually actively involved with the communities in the area, however, COVID put most of their projects on pause. Early into the pandemic, alongside other first responders, they were participating in birthday drive-bys, but once the restrictions were loosened, this initiative faded. They also participated in the reformatted graduation last summer.

Like with other industries, most of their meetings shifted to an online format. But Park said that once the situation allows, they hope to get back to working closely with the communities.

"The goal with the reopening is to get back to some sense of normal and to get re-engaged in our communities. It's a big part of our policing, a big part of what we do is being involved in the communities. And we're looking forward to getting back out. I know, years past we usually attended places like Lampman when they had their winter fest, and played hockey with the kids and stuff like that. So it'll be nice to be able to get back out and do some positive interactions with the communities for sure," Park said.

Park also pointed out that while they weren't able to do much in the community outside of their service, the community was pretty engaged and helpful in solving crimes by providing information when the Estevan RCMP sent out messages through the Saskatchewan Crime Watch Advisory Network.

"We were actually one of the detachments that piloted the project. We use it to get messages out in real time when we have to. And we've actually had some great success in solving crimes through that network," Park said.

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