In May, Supt. Jennifer Hyland finished her first year as officer in charge of the Ridge Meadows RCMP detachment, but she is quick to point out that she is not new to the city.
Hyland is a Garibaldi secondary graduate, and worked at the detachment for nine years as a sergeant from 2006 until 2014. She was reassigned for two years, as an inspector in North Vancouver, and returned in October 2016.
“Being the chief of police in the town in which I’ve lived and I grew up in is one of my dream jobs …” she said. “I come to work and I’m investing in my community. I’m investing in my children’s friends, my parents, my neighbours …” she said, adding that the work now has more meaning.
As superintendent, Hyland has put a new focus on some areas of policing: child abuse, child sexual abuse and child pornography.
As opposed to tackling drugs, guns and gangs, crimes involving children are generally not topics people like to talk about, she said. However, the links between childhood trauma and future criminal behaviour are undeniable, and police need to be involved with children earlier.
“Making sure that we were connecting and being present with the youth in this community was one of my first priorities. They are the future.”
So for the first time in decades, she assigned officers to elementary schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, as well as high schools, with two liaison officers for each.
They are there for class talks, for sporting events and for bake sales – simply for positive interactions with kids. When those children deal with police officers in the future, perhaps under different circumstances, it will be from a foundation of trust.
Now the detachment’s off-duty officers have experiences like kids running up to them in the grocery store and introducing their parents. Three police officers were invited to birthday parties.
“And the feedback from the school district … has been absolutely amazing,” she said.
“I’m proud of the way my police officers embraced the opportunity to spend time with kids in a meaningful way.
“The value in the investment is tenfold, and can’t even be measured.”
Her contention is that Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows “are very safe communities to be in,” for the average citizen.
So, when looking at threats, people should consider the obvious – dangerous driving.
“Some of the worst things I’ve seen in policing was rolling up on a fatal car accident, with a family of four dead inside their car,” she said.
“In a instant, you can go from having a normal life, to being a family who has has lost loved ones.”
She said this is a city of commuters, and too many drivers overestimate their competence, resulting in traumatic injuries or death.
“We’re losing people.
“So our focus on road safety has been significant, to do with high speed – excessive speeds.”
It’s an area where the detachment has used a new emphasis on social media to get its message across. Now there are Facebook posts showing photos of cars being towed away, after the driver is charge with excessive speeding.
It gets the point across, she said, and police know people are checking it out, because the photos might get 3,500 views online.
Similarly, the detachment got 45,000 view of its Pink Shirt Day social media posts. When cancer patient Logan Lay was made Chief for a Day last June, the video was seen by almost 50,000 online.
Now the detachment is seeing that its members can tell their stories online, and the public has an appetite for it.
“Up until the past year, we hadn’t fully embraced that,” Hyland said.
There have also been some great moments in traditional police work, like a fentanyl bust that saw five people charged and 20,000 doses of the deadly drug seized.
“We see every one of those pills as a death sentence,” she said, and being able to interdict in such a big way undoubtedly saved lives.
“That’s a win.”
Hyland said it is more difficult to celebrate police success when others have suffered. A victim was beaten into a coma during a rural home invasion, but the police investigation resulted in the arrest and jailing of a man who had been on a crime “rampage” throughout the Lower Mainland. Similarly, the investigation into a hit-and-run accident that killed a local woman who had been riding her motorcycle found the alleged perpetrator.
“I’m proud my police officers solved it, and have someone charged,” she said.
Hyland wants increased police visibility and community involvement, and that has brought back bike patrols from April through September in the downtown area and in parks.
The detachment has 127 officers, and there is built-in growth where the city adds three officers every two years – one or two officers every year.
She said growth in the police department cannot be tied to crime rates, which are generally trending downward. According to Stats Canada, police-reported crime in Canada has been falling for more than 20 years. In 2013, it reached its lowest point since 1969. Crime rose in 2015, compared with the previous year, but was still 31 per cent lower than in 2005.
Hyland said policing has been evolving at the same time, and the role of a cop is much different.
“We are called law enforcement. But the reality of it is, only a portion of what we do enforces the law. A large portion of what we’re responsible for doing is social issues.
There is always a police officer on duty, around the clock and across the calendar, and that’s why they get emergency calls, be it is a social issue, a health issue or youth needing different services.
“When someone is in crisis, and they call us, we’re going to go and help.
“It is not against the law to be addicted to drugs, and it is not against the law to be homeless.”
She said Maple Ridge is doing well in dealing with homeless issues from a policing perspective. There are calls, and there are files generated specific to the homeless camp and complaints about members of the homeless population, but she does not see it as worse than neighbouring cities, and better than some.
“If you were to do a comparison to the homeless issues that are happening in other communities, I think, from my perspective, Maple Ridge is doing very well. We are not inundated with issues to do with homelessness or the homeless camp,” she said. “I think it’s because we have a very community approach to what we are doing.
“As the chief of police here, I really want people to know that if there is something really unsafe happening, if there was something going on, they would hear from us. The reality of it is, it’s a safe community.”