Longtime residents are concerned it’s no longer safe to go for a walk in downtown Trail.
So much so that a group of concerned citizens led by John D’Arcangelo, Margaret Crawford, and Katherine Oliphant created a society called Concerned Trail Citizens (CTC).
The group met with Trail RCMP sergeant Mike Wicentowich on July 29 at the Gyro Park gazebo to discuss crime and increasing violent incidents in Greater Trail.
“Our main concern is with the increase in problems in Trail in crime, which appear to be more serious in nature now,” said D’Arcangelo. “We’ve had three knifing incidents, a shooting, and, as one of my friends said, ‘We appear to have big city crime now in a small community.’”
Trail’s Gyro Park in particular has been the site of recent stabbings, assault, public drinking, a near drowning, and a case of indecent exposure. In the past few months, the city has also seen a spate of thefts, a stabbing-suicide, armed robbery, arson, assault and drug trafficking, leaving residents on edge.
“We’re concerned with a number of incidents, where several people, just not seniors, are afraid to go downtown, or walk the bridges at night like they use to,” said D’Arcangelo. “Safety is a big issue.”
According to Sgt. Wicentowich, many of the crimes are isolated incidents, and do not pose a threat to the public safety. Yet, many are, unfortunately, linked to mental health, the homeless, and drug addiction.
“We had a long discussion about the effects of drug addiction and mental health on the people who are really vulnerable in our society, including our street population here and the considerable amount of supports available,” said Wicentowich. “As RCMP we know all the people on the streets and we deal with them on a regular basis, so we manage them whether its mental health or addiction or criminal acts, and each according to the situation.
“The only thing we can really recommend is that when the public sees something, they contact the police.”
CTC believe there is a deficiency in the criminal justice system, which fails to adequately detain those convicted, while the number of thefts and petty crime in the area seems to be on the rise.
“The amount of theft in Trail is unbelievable, the last three years,” said D’Arcangelo. “And our group feels, that this past month in particular in Trail has been one of the worst.”
The group has spoken to many residents who are alarmed at the number of homeless people moving to Trail and living on the street. Some have been harassed, while others victims of theft, and other criminal activity.
“It appears to us that their problems are extreme and we wonder if we have the resources and the expertise to help them, and are they getting the help?”
A 2018 Report on Homelessness by the Homelessness Service Association of B.C estimated that more than 7,655 individuals were identified as experiencing homelessness; and at least 20 per cent of those are seniors. Of the total, 56 per cent also reported an addiction, 44 per cent a medical condition, 40 per cent reported a mental illness, and 33 per cent reported a physical disability.
CTC organizer Crawford believes the current resources for mental health treatment in Trail are wanting, and that a proper facility and round-the-clock mental-health support in the downtown core urgently needed.
“I’d like to see, first and foremost, supportive housing for the severely mentally ill and addicted individuals. I’d like to see BC Housing and the City of Trail somehow pull that together, with Columbia Basin Trust supporting it.
“We need more mental health workers and we need them to be present, when they need them most, which is probably after hours, but they need them all the time, 24-7.”
For the RCMP, they have only so many tools, but are working with the available support to help those in need - when possible.
“We’ll deal with someone who is having a severe mental health crisis ten times a day,” said Wicentowich. “We do a fairly good job, but you can’t really solve the issues, but you can manage them and hook them up with their mental health services.
“We have a very good group in town, a very large and robust group, but people still have free will so they only have to access services that they want. Sometimes it poses a bit of a challenge when you’re trying to get someone stabilized.”
It is also extremely expensive to have RCMP respond to every situation, regardless of how serious. Still, as a result of the conversation, the RCMP responded proactively.
“We are stepping up patrols in Gyro Park area, both vehicle and foot, as well as other public spaces,” said Wicentowich. “But we have a limited amount of resources and there’s always calls for service, and summer is the busiest time.”
The CTC left the meeting with the RCMP feeling it was positive, and appreciative of Sgt. Wicentowich’s interaction.
“We’re pleased to say that there has been a police presence at Gyro, that’s great news, and we do know from our meeting the concern about the number of police on sick leave, some will return shortly,” said D’Arcangelo. “So we consider it a productive meeting.”
Wicentowich plans to reconvene with concerned groups in the fall. He hopes to hold regular meetings in the RCMP detachment, and invite residents and various groups in the community to participate.
“I’d like to get more feedback from the community in an official setting. Anyone is welcome to call and talk to me about the issues they are experiencing. Because as a community we’ll solve them, if we work together to reduce property theft, nuisance calls or issues down at Gyro Park, we’re willing to work with everybody.”