FRONT LINE: How Vernon's downtown cops get compliance through compassion - InfoNews

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FRONT LINE: How Vernon's downtown cops get compliance through compassion

Const. Ryan Carey and Const. Mark Macaulay talk to a street entrenched woman in Vernon's Linear Park.
October 08, 2019 - 7:00 AM

VERNON - Standing on the gravel a couple of metres from Vernon's Linear Park, RCMP Const. Mark Macaulay squats down to speak to a woman sitting down on the ground next to a small bag of her belongings and a shopping cart.

Const. Macaulay addresses her by name while his partner RCMP Const. Ryan Carey jots her name down in a note pad. The officer tells her she's sitting on private property and therefore trespassing and she has to move.

She exchanges a few words with Const. Macaulay and as she's only a couple of metres from Linear Park, which is a public space, she gets up and begins to move to the park. If the woman returns to the spot, the officers could have grounds for an arrest.

Macaulay and Carey are part of the Vernon North Okanagan RCMP's Downtown Enforcement Unit, a dedicated team of five officers who focus on Vernon's downtown core.

Macaulay says he knows the woman who's now moving her stuff to the park. She's part of Vernon's street entrenched population.

The officers know the majority of the names of the people they come into contact with.
The officers know the majority of the names of the people they come into contact with.

As the two officers continue their morning walk through Linear Park, an area of Vernon synonymous with the homeless, they say they also know the names of two other street entrenched people sitting huddled under a tree.

They stop and say a few words, and ask politely to move the shopping cart so it doesn't block the path.

They continue walking down the Linear Park. They say their positions in the enforcement unit mean they know most of the names of Vernon's street entrenched population. Their positions also specifically require them to be out on the street.

"The beauty of our job is that we can be proactively looking for things before they can happen," Macaulay says. "Ryan and I have built a relationship with a lot of these people down here and treat them well, they treat us well."

The officers spend their days in the downtown core, dealing with all manner of things, from speaking to local businesses and community organizations, to dealing with the ever-present street entrenched population. While other police officers deal with calls from all over the city, Macaulay and Carey focus solely on downtown, which gives them a unique perspective on the city's streets.

"Street entrenched does not necessarily mean homeless, a lot of people are housed they're just engaged in a street entrenched lifestyle," Carey says.

As they are often the first point of contact, they try to connect people with mental health services.

Vernon's Linear Park.
Vernon's Linear Park.

They continue walking down the Linear Park and head to the small bridge that runs over the creek near the war memorial. They both head under the bridge and chat with a couple of people hanging out there.

Moments later they're walking back towards downtown and they stop to speak to a woman pushing a shopping cart through the park. The woman is clearly very upset.

"We chatted with her this morning," Const. Macaulay says. "She's having a rougher day today."

Engaging with people and assessing a person's mental state, along with dealing with mental health issues, is all part of their work.

As the weather is getting colder there are fewer people around and at 11:30 a.m. the job seems almost quiet, but Macaulay has already made two arrests today.

"On both occasions, I saw people smoking heroin," he says.

Once an arrest is made, the police can then search a person, which can lead to them finding items such as stolen credit cards, or other evidence that may then expose further criminal behaviour.

And the unit does make a lot of arrests. In the last three months, they've executed 118 arrest warrants. Not all those arrests would have led to charges, and not all those charged would have been convicted.

Macaulay says he's not disheartened by this.

"We do our job to the best of our ability," he says.

So what's the biggest misconception the public has about police work?

"The paperwork," they both answer almost in unison. "TV doesn't show the paperwork," Carey adds.

Catching the bad guy might take five minutes then there are four hours of paperwork.

"I think the public isn't aware of how busy we truly are," Carey says.

And like most people in the working world, do they have a boss breathing down their necks?

They both laugh at the question, and give an uncomfortable nod, before Macaulay adds "for sure you do."

The officers move a street entrenched man off private property.
The officers move a street entrenched man off private property.

A few blocks back into town and the officers are talking to an older man with a long beard, his appearance has all the hallmarks of decades living on the street.

"Adam did you go to primary?" they ask. The man's hand is swollen and covered in open sores, a common sign of a crystal meth user.

"No," he replies.

"Why don't you go today... Adam, your hand is swollen."

"It's not swollen," he replies.

Adam is from Kelowna and has been in Vernon for a few days. They're not sure why he's in Vernon, and they're both keeping a close eye out for him.

Men like Adam make a lot of people cross the street to avoid them.

"This is our job and we have to show compassion," Const. Macaulay says. "It's not our job to judge."

Across the street from the Upper Street Mission, an older man lies on a blanket on a grassy verge. The officers tell him he's on private property and can't stay there. They take his name and date of birth.

"You are permitted to be in the public park during operating hours," Carey tells the man as he gets up to move.

After just 45 minutes of walking with the officers, it's apparent their job is complex and brings them into circumstances most people will never experience. While there's no dramatic police takedown, no guns are drawn, and there are no arrests made, the walkabout shows a subtler side to policing.

So what do they say to those who say when it comes to the street entrenched population the police aren't doing anything?

They smile and say that's a question for their Superintendent.

"All I do is work towards that loss in confidence," Carey says.

"The job is tough," Macaulay says, adding "I'm proud to wear the uniform."

Const. Mark Macaulay and Const. Ryan Carey.
Const. Mark Macaulay and Const. Ryan Carey.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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