RCMP officers in Brooks, Alta., know well that the area has seen its share of economic, health and social challenges. But reducing fear, tackling crime and building trust remain top of mind for this 29-person detachment.
The struggling oil-and-gas sector and the opioid crisis have continued to take a toll on this region. And then this year, COVID-19 arrived.
The pandemic swept through the area in the spring and had a devastating impact on the community, taking the lives of nine people as of early September.
Alberta Health Services authorized police to ticket individuals who weren't protecting themselves or who were putting others at risk. But in the City of Brooks, with a population of about 15,000, only one person was fined.
We didn't really want to do that (fine people)," says RCMP Sgt. Bruce McDonald, district commander in Brooks. "
We really took it as an opportunity to educate the public about their responsibilities. And most people listened."
Officers at Brooks detachment patrol a vast area between Calgary and Medicine Hat that includes ranches and farms, and is home to about 30,000 people.
The wide-open prairie is also dotted with oil and gas rigs and drilling operations — some working, some not. Those drilling sites often prove to be irresistible targets of theft.
They're full of copper wire and it doesn't take long to rip it out of the ground and get it out of there," says Cpl. Richelle Daly, Crime Reduction Unit supervisor at Brooks detachment, who notes a typical theft could yield hundreds of dollars.
Although police do have success catching copper thieves — in May charges were laid in the theft of more than 350 kilograms of copper wire — Daly says there's no shortage of unscrupulous buyers of the stolen wire.
The area is so vast it's hard to catch these guys," she says. "
But that doesn't mean we're going to stop. These thieves cause so much damage to well sites, we'll keep going after them."
Building better relationships
Aside from focusing on pandemic education and local crime, officers in Brooks also work on building relationships with the community.
Like many Canadian cities with diverse populations, Brooks has recently hosted events to raise awareness about racism and complaints about police actions.
A Black-Lives-Matter rally was held on June 7.
Some (people at the rally) were against us but we're not going to distance ourselves from the issues," says McDonald.
McDonald organized a community meeting days earlier to discuss problems and search for solutions. The meeting was an opportunity for police to learn more about the people they serve and further develop their relationship with minority groups.
The town's major employer, one of Canada's largest meat-packing operations, has recruited foreign workers to fill its factory for years. Many are from African and Asian countries, and while some leave, others stay and build a life.
Many of the people who've come to Brooks have experienced trauma at the hands of police and military in other countries," says Cpl, Josh Argue, who has served in the region for more than a decade. "
Some are basically afraid of the police."
That fear can present itself at everything from traffic stops to school visits and community events.
That's why, Argue says, conducting and building upon positive police interactions with community members is vital.
We need to show people the positive side of policing," he says. "
And to build trust."