Sgt. Casey Baker had worked on foot patrol in Surrey’s notorious Whalley neighbourhood, so when Ridge Meadows RCMP needed an officer to take the lead in dealing with the situation at the Cliff Avenue homeless camp in the spring of 2015, he got tapped on the shoulder.
Supt. David Fleugel asked him to lead the multi-agency Community Standards Team. Baker was charged with ensuring public safety at the camp.
By all accounts, he was the right man for the job, and his work led to him being selected the detachment’s Officer of the Year at a ceremony on April 27.
Baker already had a remarkable career. In the storied force, it’s rare for an RCMP officer to be able to say they were “the first” at anything, but Baker can make that boast. He was one of the three original tactical flight officers on Air 1 when the program started in 2006. The helicopter carried a two-member crew, and the tactical flight officer sits next to pilot and operates the camera, spotlight and does all the police radio communication.
“We do the police work from the passenger’s seat,” Baker said. “And we caught a lot of bad guys.”
He then went to work as a corporal in charge of a foot beat team in Whalley. He saw the face of homelessness close up.
“It was an eye opener, certainly,” he said.
Baker had worked other Surrey neighbourhoods, but agreed, “It’s a different world there, to some extent.”
The job was to patrol eight square blocks with big history – both good and bad, including a section of 135A street known as “The Strip.” It’s an area that bears resemblance to the toughest streets in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“It’s pretty intense. There is a concentrated population of street-entrenched people living there,” he said.
There is also a concentration of social services, including a long serving homeless shelter.
“The helicopter was unique, exciting and rewarding. But in terms of old fashioned police work, working on the Whalley strip was a really positive experience,” he said.
He and another corporal were in charge of a team of 10 constables assigned to the area.
“The overriding theme was certainly drug trafficking and drug abuse, and violence stemming from drug use and abuse,” he said. “And there was a large mental health component, which we are seeing across the region.”
Police observed and arrested street-level drug dealers. There was also a mandate to bust “crack shacks” in the area, and they busted about seven, arresting dozens of “flopped out” occupants and seizing shotguns and other weapons.
He was promoted to sergeant and came to the Ridge Meadows detachment in December 2013, assigned to lead a general duty team.
Dealing with Maple Ridge’s homeless population, camped on a residential street, was a different challenge. Baker had a lot of involvement with the home owners and businesses neighbouring the camp.
“You talked to people living there, and they had tents on their doorsteps. What those families had to experience was very, very unique.”
Still, the new job was like putting on an old hat.
“I’m used to dealing with street entrenched people. I feel like I can establish a line of communication with just about anybody,” he said.
“Those people living in that encampment are living in difficult conditions, but they’re still people.”
There was definitely some enforcement at the camp, with a drug search warrant executed, drug-related arrests and two reported assaults – in one, a woman had part of a finger bitten off.
“It was a long, hot summer, and I would be lying if I didn’t say there were days when I didn’t know if we were going to be able to solve it. There were some days when everybody was frustrated.”
But there was a lot of success.
An awards night statement from the city said: “Casey’s personality, his diplomacy, his respectful manner and soft-spoken approach helped keep a volatile situation from turning bad. The way he dealt with this situation harkened back to the early history of the North West Mounted Police, where one or two members would be dispatched from the fort to a remote community to deal with a situation.
The red serge of the RCMP is a symbol respected around the world because of the men and women who carry out their duties in a way that reflects our highest ideals as a nation. In the most difficult possible circumstances, Sgt. Casey Baker reflected the compassion and strength of the RCMP and our community.”
He was part of the solution, and the Cliff Avenue people decamped voluntarily – which is believed to be a first in the region.
Baker is back on general duty.
“It’s the kind of job that has a shelf life,” he said of his work with the homeless. “There’s a lot of human misery.”
He was stunned on awards night, felt conspicuous being singled out, and was glad that his family was there to share the moment with him.
“I’m more comfortable being part of a team,” he said.
“There are 120 police officers of the year working here.”
Numerous officers with the Ridge Meadows detachment were honoured on April 27, giving insight into the police work happening mostly out of the public eye, the people doing the job, and even members of the public who assist them.
The following are a few highlights,
• Const. Ryan Doherty:
Const. Ryan Doherty was recognized for disarming a man holding a shotgun.
In the fall of 2015, Doherty was called to a landlord/tenant dispute at an apartment building in downtown Maple Ridge. He and another officer spoke to the subjects involved.
He saw the tenant was clearly not pleased with police attendance, and sat agitated on a sofa. There was a large knife on the floor. As Const. Doherty looked for other threats, he saw the male clenching and attempting to hide a sawed-off shotgun.
Instinctively and without hesitation, Doherty reached out and grabbed the barrel of the gun with his bare hands and dislodged it from the man’s grasp.
Doherty was then able to affect an immediate arrest without incident, and the male was provided the psychiatric care he needed.
The 12 gauge had a round in the chamber, and was ready to fire.
“Const. Doherty showed incredible restraint and fierce courage when confronted with this situation that could have easily ended much differently for both officer and citizen,” Supt. David Fleugel in presenting the award.
• Corporals Anthony Harnett and Deanna Hawes:
Between August and October 2014 the Ridge-Meadows Street Enforcement Unit received information regarding a violent drug dealer. Police began an investigation with Cpl. Anthony Harnett as team Leader and Cpl. Deanna Hawes as primary investigator.
Extensive investigative work and surveillance resulted n the seizure of a large quantity of heroin, a loaded handgun and thousands in cash.
In 2015 an off-shoot investigation was initiated, which resulted the seizure of a substantial quantity of heroin, cocaine and fentanyl. Several suspects face multiple drug and firearms charges.
• Const. Brent Robertson:
In 2012, Const. Brent Robertson responded to a vicious domestic violence incident in Pitt Meadows.
The suspect fled the scene on foot, heading to the dyke trails. Robertson ran after him, but when he caught up the suspect resisted arrest. The two men got into a violent struggle, and they slid into a steep and deep water-filled ditch. Robertson eventually got control of the suspect, while keeping both from drowning in the high water.
Robertson was acknowledged for “a very dangerous arrest that required physical force in a murky and deep water filled ditch that could have had fatal consequences for both officer and suspect.”
• Corporals Brent Wilcott, Aaron Lloyd and Drew Hobbs:
In late 2013, Ridge Meadows RCMP investigated complaints of sexual assault at a home-based daycare facility, where the victim was one of the children who attended the daycare. In addition to dealing with the identified victim, an extensive investigation was also commenced and exhaustive efforts were undertaken to collect evidence and identify other potential child victims. Countless interviews with school and government resources, families and other potential witnesses were expertly conducted. Serious criminal charges were approved against the accused, for the sexual assault of the multiple child victims from the daycare. The accused pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to a lengthy federal jail sentence.
• Const. Mike Pedrosa – The Will to Come Back:
Constable Pedrosa returned to active duty, doing what he loves, on June 30 2015, five years after being diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer.
In the early morning hours of March 12, 2010, Pedrosa suffered a grand mal seizure. He underwent surgery on March 31.
His eight months of chemotherapy ended in January 2011, but Constable Pedrosa could not return to full duties until he was seizure-free for five years. As a result, Pedrosa was assigned a variety of administrative roles throughout the detachment, including formalizing the Station Constable position, improving business practices, workflow and reducing backlog. During this period and on his own time, Pedrosa went back to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Criminology.
“His perseverance to return to active duty, and significant contributions in spite of adversity are a testament to his dedication, strength, fortitude and character,” said his award.
• RCMP acknowledged Jody Branter, Ronald Glover and Curtis Kehler with a certificate of appreciation for outstanding community service, for coming to the aid of citizens trapped in a motor vehicle collision.
In May 2015, in the evening hours, a small white Honda civic lost control, crashed and ended upside down in a water-filled ditch in Pitt Meadows. One of the occupants was still conscious, panicking and banging on the windows but the other lost consciousness.
Area residents ensured 911 was called, while others jumped in the water and tried to open the car doors – but they were seized shut. Some ran home to obtain sharp objects to cut seat belts and others got pry bars, hammer and ladders to assist with the extrication. A rear window was smashed out and they were able to get one occupant free. Some of the citizens treated the freed passenger for shock and tended to her injuries while they waited for emergency personnel to arrive. Police say their actions saved the life of this passenger. Even though heroic and valiant efforts were clearly made to try and save the driver, she unfortunately succumbed to her injuries.