Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Morris has called on the city of Williams Lake to hire more police officers, a suggestion he made even before the city’s latest shooting on Monday.
Morris was in the lakecity Friday to discuss a community safety initiative for Williams Lake with members of city council, the RCMP and First Nations leaders.
“The number of officers stationed here has been relatively stagnant for 20 years,” Morris told the Tribune in between meetings, noting Williams Lake’s crime rate is the highest in the province and perhaps in the country.
“That needs to be looked at in order to bring the crime rate per officer down,” Morris said.
A few hours after the shooting Monday, Mayor Walt Cobb told the Tribune he was not happy about the city being expected to increase the police force and by all indications that was not going to help anything.
“We have to get at the root of the problem,” Cobb said. “Hiring more RCMP is not going to stop what’s happening in the community. The issue is people coming into Williams Lake from outside the area causing the problem.”
City Coun. Scott Nelson had a different message after meeting with Morris.
Nelson said Friday the city would be willing to pay for more police officers in Williams Lake if the province would step up and cover the cost for more police officers in the region’s First Nations communities.
“We feel the area is absolutely 100 per cent under-policed,” Nelson said. “Crime goes back and forth and by increasing the presence of RCMP inside the community we also need to increase the presence outside the city.”
Adding more police officers to the 2017 budget is a goal, but it will come down to a council decision, Nelson added.
Williams Lake RCMP Insp. Milo MacDonald said he was encouraged by the meeting with the minister and members of city council.
“It was generally accepted that the solution is going to be a combination of upstream community programs and enhanced enforcement,” MacDonald said Friday.
Morris promised in the short term, Williams Lake and surrounding First Nations communities can expect to benefit from the recent announcement that two teams will be added to the RCMP’s Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU).
The CFSEU has a component called the provincial target enhancement program that identifies prolific offenders throughout B.C. and concentrates on putting them behind bars.
Morris said the team’s efforts will be used locally. He also said his ministry is hoping to put more money into making GPS tracking systems available to courts across the province when prolific offenders are being released.
Morris also supports city council’s plan to meet with judges in Williams Lake to discuss sentencing concerns.