When an orphaned bear cub was found roaming the First Nations village of Oweekeno, B.C., the community called the RCMP's West Coast Marine Services (WCMS) unit for help.
"The most important thing we do is show up and fill in during times when detachments are shorthanded," says Cst. Dave Kokesch, an officer on the WCMS's north patrol boat. "It's about being accessible to remote communities and building those positive relationships."
The WCMS unit patrols the west coast of British Columbia, between the Alaska and Washington state borders, visiting hard-to-reach communities like the 300-person coastal village of Oweekeno.
Kokesch and other WCMS officers happened to be nearby when they overheard concerned locals talking about the wandering bear cub. Residents didn't know what to do, so they asked the RCMP for help —
on the condition that the cub wouldn't be put down.
Kokesch and the other officers quickly agreed and tracked down the bear cub. Using a peanut butter sandwich, they were able to coax the bear into a dog crate. They contacted wildlife conservation officers who flew in and airlifted the cub to a rehabilitation centre.
"When we finally got the cub in the cage, the community surrounded us, they couldn't believe it," says Kokesch. "It's not a huge effort on our part, but it made a big difference for this community. It's these types of things that wouldn't get done if we weren't visiting these remote places."
The WCMS unit consists of three 65-foot Catamaran boats: one patrolling the northern coast of the province, and two around the Vancouver Island/lower mainland area. Four officers work on each boat for seven days at a time, in rotation with other members of the 26-person unit.
As the operations commander, Sgt. Rod Pick co-ordinates the activity of all three boats in the unit. While some stops are determined in advance, the boats often respond to calls as they come in.
"First and foremost we assist detachments, whether that's general duty policing or just being that presence," says Pick. "We get into areas that detachments have a hard time getting into — usually remote places only accessible by boat."
The unit helps detachments handle crimes in peripheral communities, including assaults, mischiefs and liquor control. They also help with community outreach, visiting schools and putting on education initiatives.
"Even if we're just in a community for a day and passing through, we always hit the school. That's a big priority for us," says Kokesch. "There's always a gymnasium open, so we'll go play basketball or badminton and have an evening with the kids so they get to know us."
WCMS also works regularly with partner agencies including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada, the B.C. Ministry of Environment, Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Coast Guard to enforce the Canada Shipping Act and deal with other boat-related crimes. Recently, the unit has been working closely with BC Ferries to prevent the illegal bootlegging of alcohol.
"Once the alcohol gets to any community, that's when the issues start, so we're trying to stop that from happening," says Kokesch. "We're nipping it in the bud."
In July, he and several other RCMP officers went onto a ferry in plainclothes. They rode it for eight hours, looking to see if anyone was drinking or bringing alcohol onto the boat. Once they got close to the destination, they changed into uniform and took action, making several arrests.
"We want to keep up an image of professionalism, so having the RCMP on-board sends the message that this isn't a party cruise," says Angel Wahnon, a security officer with BC Ferries. "It's quite honestly been night and day. It's made a noticeable difference. Now everyone thinks twice about drinking on the ship."
Whether it's the partner agencies the unit works with, or the communities it serves, the WCMS unit helps the RCMP make connections up and down British Columbia's coastline.
"We try to focus on the needs of these communities, and educate and listen to the locals in order to keep a handle on crime," says Kokesch. "One minute you can be working on an assault or a drug problem, the next minute you're rescuing a bear cub. We just do whatever needs to get done."