Williams Lake is in need of a ‘huge’ paradigm shift to ensure it is taking care of its most vulnerable citizens, said Dave Dickson, manager of community safety.
“When we look at community safety and making our community even a safer place, we really need to look at the vulnerable,” Dickson told city council and staff during the committee of the whole meeting Tuesday, May 21.
He estimated 60 per cent of the RCMP’s calls for service deal with people that other agencies ought to be looking after.
“Time after time after time, mental health is a huge issue in our community and I truly think there are other agencies in the City that can help us — the City, and the RCMP— moving forward.”
Dickson is proposing the City develop a well-being and community safety strategic plan.
“That’s where you involve the whole community and you develop a plan to move in a safe direction,” he explained, noting the province of Ontario has legislated that all cities must have a community safety well-being plan.
He sits on the Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention executive, and through that has seen changes being made in Canada.
Representatives from different sectors, such as the police, health services or housing for example, work together to make a plan.
“We have been able to secure funding so it won’t cost the City anything,” Dickson said, noting there is about $35,000 left from the Integrated Community Safety Initiative funding the region received from a civil forfeiture grant in 2016.
“We have buy-in from the RCMP, School District 27 and Denisiqi Family Services. They are at the table with us and we have done some preliminary plans.”
The key is to work collaboratively on how to effect positive change, he added.
Dr. Felix Munger, managing director at Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention, is available to advise Williams Lake, Dickson told council.
The government has been encouraging the development of a Williams Lake and area situation table and has earmarked $75,000 to fund it, he added.
“A situation table is a forum for all front-line practitioners to come to the table to address the need of a person from cradle to grave. We see situation tables going all over the province. In Penticton they have one and as of last fall had done 26 cases.”
Williams Lake has 42 different practitioners and organizations that are paid to step up to the plate and take that work off police officers, giving them more time to do positive criminal investigations.
“That’s what they are hired for, not to be social workers,” Dickson said. “Insp. Jeff Pelley said he has one employee who is a qualified social worker. The rest of our team are expected to do that job and it makes it tough on them, especially when they don’t have all the tools in their tool box. And it happens at 10 at night or two in the morning, when most people are sleeping.”
Council fully endorsed both the well-being plan and situation table and encouraged Dickson to make a similar presentation to surrounding First Nations communities and the Cariboo Regional District.
Dickson said he is aware that some First Nations communities are working on their own well-being and community safety strategies.
Mayor Walt Cobb said the City cannot afford to pay ongoing costs after the initial plan and situation table have been set up.
“It’s a great idea, but I want to know it is going to carry on,” Cobb said.
Pelley said he does not know what the cost will be and the RCMP are not asking for a financial commitment from the City.
The plan is to eventually hire a part-time or full-time person to manage the situation table, Dickson said.
Coun. Sheila Boehm said if it proves to be valuable and helps prevent crime, the City can then go to other agencies for funding.
“With that many people involved, how can you not have power in numbers?” she said. “To me it’s a no-brainer.”