After reading social media posts about locals witnessing physical abuse towards the city’s most vulnerable – compiled with stories recounted to the newspaper from locals who report they’ve also seen these incidents firsthand – the Trail Times contacted the police station to find out if the RCMP has respective reports on file or if anyone has called in these complaints.
“We investigate every report of assault that occurs,” Trail RCMP Sgt. Mike Wicentowich began.
“We often do not get the cooperation from our local vulnerable population when they are asked to provide us with a recorded statement and attend court to testify.”
Refusal to go on record could be for several reasons such as the person was engaged in criminal activity when they come into conflict with others, or they don’t want to be known as a snitch.
Nevertheless, Wicentowich says this population is at a much higher chance of being the victim of a crime.
“They do get assaulted by each other and others in the public,” he explained. “We understand this fact but cannot proceed with criminal charges unless we have their cooperation. The RCMP has to send evidence to Crown to have the charge approved.”
The Trail RCMP has warned the public against vigilante “justice” in the past.
“It does not solve any of our issues and can lead to a criminal charge against the person committing it,” Wicentowich said. “We ask the public to report any crimes they witness to us. We understand the frustration with the situation downtown and are working with other agencies to better address it in the future,” he added.
“Every community is facing this issue.”
Regarding incidents specific to Trail, the sergeant could not comment due to privacy concerns.
“Street culture often dictates that one does not cooperate with the police or they will be labelled a ‘rat,’” he said.
“This label can make someone’s life much more difficult that it already is.”
Some street people are highly dependent on drugs and cannot be seen as cooperating with the police as it will generate mistrust amongst their peers and drug suppliers.
“That being said, the RCMP enjoys a good relationship with our local street population in almost all of our interactions,” said Wicentowich.
The growing issue of homelessness, mental health and addiction is very complicated, and police can only do so much.
“This is why I advocate for solutions to homelessness, addiction, mental illness, and poverty,” he continued. “As a community and society, we can better protect our most vulnerable with structured supports and facilities in place to reduce their victimization.”
The criminal law is one avenue, and only a small percentage of cases end in convictions.
“A broader approach to this issue is needed to better manage it,” Wicentowich said. “And hopefully lead those who want it, away from street life.”