BANFF – Banff RCMP may be getting one additional police officer to help with a growing workload and ease pressure on the stretched detachment.
Two murders in Banff this summer – the first homicides in more than 30 years – and an alarming increase in the number of sexual assaults and spousal abuse crimes this year has given rise to much angst in the community.
Silvio Adamo, the director of protective services for the Town of Banff, said filling the last vacant position would bring the RCMP detachment to 18 municipally dedicated police officers and two rural officers.
“Based on the current upward trend in policing demand and the inevitable ebb and flow of personnel consistent in all RCMP detachments, administration is recommending the filling of the last vacant position,” he said in a report.
“The additional member will assist in an increased uniformed presence within the town and help meet the Town’s policing priorities established annually in consultation with the detachment commander.”
The two murders this summer rocked the town and led to an RCMP-led public town hall.
The previous murder in Banff was in 1990 when 18-year-old Ryan Jason Love stabbed 23-year-old cab driver Lucie Turmel for her earnings that night, which amounted to $130. Love, now 51,was granted full parole in 2012, but that was revoked last month.
John Sproule, a 20-year-old man of Lake Country, B.C., is charged with second degree murder after the stabbing death of a 27-year-old Foothills County man near the Dancing Sasquatch in the early hours of Sept. 3.
A month earlier, born and raised local Ethan Enns-Goneau, 26, was stabbed to death inside the same nightclub on Aug. 5. John Arrizza, 22, was charged with second degree murder. Both men remain in custody.
Coun. Ted Christensen, who sits on Banff’s police advisory committee, said he believes the addition of a second frontline police officer will help ease residents’ fears.
While he is not interested in funding other staff positions pitched by administration due to a looming double digit tax hike, Christensen said he supports the RCMP position because it is about community safety.
“The community safety factor hasn’t gone away,” he said.
“I think having an additional police officer, having more boots on the ground, will help."
According to a staff report for service review, escalation in sexual assault and spousal abuse crime rates presents a growing concern in Banff.
The statistics show there are typically five to six sexual assaults reported to police in the first seven months of the year, whereas there have been 21 so far this year.
“In nearly all events, the offender was known to the victim and the incident occurred in an indoor private environment,” said Adamo in the report.
“A disturbing pattern is offenders failing to cease sexual activity once the victim has withdrawn consent.”
In addition to enforcement, the Banff RCMP is in communication with Banff YWCA on a strategy to try to prevent these crimes.
“Spousal abuse rates remained consistent throughout the pandemic in comparison with prior years, but have increased by 24 per cent in 2022, from an average of 55 events to 68,” Adamo said.
“The rate of sexual assault has increased slightly throughout southern Alberta in 2022, and the rate of spousal abuse cases has remained stable with prior years.”
According to statistics provided by the Town of Banff, overall policing activity in Banff this year has been close to 2019 levels, with some areas of criminal activity seeing a sharp increase year-over-year.
Crime statistics to the end of July 2022 show a 57 per cent increase in crimes against people, which represents a return to pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.
Property crime, however, increased by only five per cent and remained 20 per cent below pre-pandemic rates.
Traffic events increased by 200 per cent from 2021 and were higher than at any other point in the preceding five years.
The RCMP detachment focused on the prevention of nuisance activity, such as drunks and partiers coming out of bars, by having officers maintain a visible presence at night near the downtown pedestrian zone.
“The downtown night scene was not particularly active until July,” Adamo said.
“Rain throughout June may have contributed to the nuisance crime categories remaining close to 2021 rates.”
In March, council decided to fill one of two vacant RCMP frontline positions and will discuss whether or not to fund this second position proposed by administration at the Dec. 12 service review meeting.
Based on a June start date, the cost of the additional officer for 2023 would be $84,598, jumping to $172,193 in 2024 and $173,805 in 2025.
In the meantime, the Town of Banff will continue to lobby the province of Alberta to honour police funding commitments laid out in the 1990 incorporation agreement due to Banff’s nature as a tourist town.
At incorporation, the province agreed to pay for seven of the RCMP officers at the Banff detachment, but went back on that agreement in 2010 and only covered four positions, leaving the municipality to pick up the slack.
Banff’s RCMP have been stretched without a full complement of police as visitation to the tourist town soared. The detachment has seldom been fully staffed given ongoing leaves, injuries and transfers, which has put additional stress on the front-line police team.
“Efforts are continuing to engage the province to revisit the incorporation agreement commitments by the province,” Adamo said.
Banff RCMP detachment commander Staff Sgt. Mike Buxton-Carr was not immediately available for comment.