This past year has been one of changes and challenges for many police departments. The legalization of marijuana has impacted traffic enforcement, while the ongoing opioid crisis has many officers dealing with overdose and addiction more often.
For the Delta Police Department, these Canada-wide issues are coupled with many more local successes and struggles. The North Delta Reporter sat down with Chief Constable Neil Dubord to talk about what he’s seen in the department over the past year, and what’s coming up for 2019.
Drugs and fentanyl
Fentanyl and other drug-related crimes were an important topic for the department this year.
After seizing more than $1.5 million in cash and weapons during raids as part of the fentanyl drug bust Project Starboard in 2016, the DPD’s drug section hit another major drug ring with Project Green Planet. This resulted in 94 charges laid against seven people with ties to the infamous Red Scorpions.
“Our drug section continues to do good work,” Dubord said. “Not just at the street level, but at the whole organized crime level.”
The DPD continued to tackle issues of fentanyl in street drugs, and the effects of overdoses on the community throughout the year, and is currently investigating an incident where fentanyl was found in counterfeit Xanax confiscated from a Delta high school student.
Drug issues, although important, weren’t the only crimes the DPD tackled this year.
A home invasion in February 2018 saw a teenage boy become the victim of a robbery, after a girl he met online brought two male suspects along with her. Police had suspicions about who the suspects were, but didn’t have enough evidence to charge them until the summer.
Two young offenders, both of whom are known to police, were charged with robbery and break-and-enter in October. One of the youths was also charged with committing an indictable offence when masked and assault with a weapon. Because of the violence of the charges, no diversion programs are available. They will both be in court in 2019.
October also saw the lobby North Delta Public Safety Building go up in flames, after former Deltan Corey Tavares allegedly set the couches and front counter on fire using gasoline.
“When I worked in Edmonton, we had a few violent encounters at the front counter, but typically people come in with a bat or something,” Dubord said. “They don’t come in with a gas can and light the place on fire. So that was very unusual.”
Also unusual was the prostitution ring that had been run out of a house in North Delta. Police received a tip about the operation from a member of the community, and began an undercover investigation that resulted in a man and woman being charged. The woman died before she was brought to court, and Mohammed Begg will be in court in 2019.
“This was one of the cases where you would never think it happens in North Delta, but it does,” Dubord said. He added the police were able to press charges in this case thanks to the involvement of the community.
“We would have never gotten [the tip] normally, but it was built on the trust we had with the community,” he said, adding the DPD has “had a tremendous amount of involvement from the community this year reporting crimes.” He attributes this as one of the reasons Delta was able to achieve its lowest crime severity index rate ever.
Community involvement was also the hallmark of the DPD’s newest traffic enforcement strategy, which resulted in a 13-per cent reduction in collisions.
In April of this year, the DPD announced it would be starting a new traffic unit Twitter account, one that would give advance notice of enforcement blitzes via social media. The account, which the DPD believed was the first of its kind in B.C. was controversial at the start.
“People [were] thinking … why would you tell people where you are?” Dubord said.
But, he said, the account helped to raise awareness about how the department was dealing with traffic issues, and also showed a “level of responsiveness to the community.” The Twitter campaign included a program which allowed the public to suggest areas in which police ought to focus their enforcement efforts.
“There were some areas we would never have gone for traffic enforcement,” Dubord said. “There might be one or two offences, not a heck of a bunch, but at least we were there to be able to show some support for what the community felt was a concern.”
Other measures also helped reduce the rate of collisions in Delta. The DPD increased the size of its traffic unit this year, and decided to put more focus on high-collision areas.
“Quite frankly, our role isn’t to write tickets. Our role is to make sure the roads are safe,” he added. “So if we could have our roads safe and not ever write a ticket again, that would be a good thing.”
The other major change to traffic enforcement in 2018 cam with the legalization of cannabis. Dubord said legalization hasn’t had a major impact on the operational side — “we haven’t gone to a tremendous amount of calls around someone smoking weed in the backyard” — but has been prominent in motor vehicle offences.
“Our numbers are way up on drug-impaired driving, but it’s just because our officers see [it] more. I’m not absolutely convinced there’s more on the road,” Dubord said.
Currently, the Delta Police Department has 50 officers trained in standard field sobriety testing, and has about two drug recognition experts working each shift. These officers are able to do roadside testing using the three-step field tester or the 12-step drug recognition test.
The DPD also has two federally-approved roadside testing machines for cannabis, although they haven’t put them into service yet.
“It will take us some time to deploy them, until we get our members trained [and] we understand how to use it properly,” Dubord said about the Drager DrugTest 5000, which uses saliva samples to test for marijuana and other drugs.
The main concerns around the machine is the cost and the size, Dubord said, as it comes in a container like a Skip the Dishes delivery bag, Dubord explained, and costs about $5,000 each.
“At a counter-attack, it’s good because you can put it in the van, you’re set up there and you don’t have to move anywhere,” he said. If there aren’t enough machines for the roaming traffic enforcement officers, however, that could cause challenges.
“We don’t want to screw it up for anyone else … and all of a sudden you have someone detained at roadside for 20 minutes waiting for an instrument to come,” Dubord said.
Dubord is hoping another federally-approved instrument will become available in the future — ideally one that’s smaller and less expensive. In the meantime, the DPD will continue to test the Drager DrugTest 5000 to figure out how best to use it in the field. No decision has been made about its use in 2019.
The department faced a number of investigations into its officers’ conduct in 2018, several of which were based around issues of public trust.
In April, two DPD officers were disciplined following a five-month investigation into a complaint of workplace and sexual harassment. The two officers were suspended without pay, and deputy chief Norm Lipinski as part of his investigation came up with nine areas the department as a whole could improve to help create a respectful working environment.
In September, CTV News broke the news that DPD inspector Varun Naidu was suspended pending an outside investigation into his interactions with a young woman interested in policing.
Though the DPD has not confirmed the identity of the officer involved, public affairs manager Cris Leykauf has told the Reporter the officer is still suspended and the investigation is ongoing. Leykauf noted the investigation falls under the Police Act and is not criminal in nature.
In July 2018, the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) began a review-on-the-record of allegations of deceit against Const. Byron Ritchie. Ritchie had been accused of writing 11 traffic tickets for violations that didn’t happen. Ritchie argued that he was giving drivers a break by issuing them tickets for not wearing a seat belt, rather than for the distracted driving they had been pulled over for. In November, the OPCC adjudicator found that Ritchie had used a “misguided understanding of his discretion” in writing the tickets, and ordered he be given training to correct it.
November also saw the OPCC call for compassion following a review-on-the-record for Const. Geoffrey Young, who was found to have falsified prescriptions after becoming addicted to opioid painkillers in 2015. Young returned to work in May of this year.
According to Dubord, OPCC investigations are not uncommon.
“We always have OPCC investigations. There’s always something going on,” he said.
“We believe that … there’s learning that can be done within the organization,” he continued. “We take that learning back to the organization and we hope to be able to increase the level of … interaction we have with the community that’s in a respectful manner.”
Looking ahead to 2019
In the next year, Dubord said the DPD is planning to put more focus on the mental health and wellness of its officers. The department will be announcing a new “fun” wellness program in January, and is working with academics to figure out how to encourage better sleep for its officers.
Next year will also see the completion of the department’s pilot project with the New Westminster Police Department wherein both departments’ forensics teams work together on large projects.
The DPD will also be getting a new simulator to practice deescalation techniques, which it is also sharing with NWPD and the Port Moody Police Department.
Also coming in 2019 is a continued focus on youths and seniors, which matches up with some of the priorities of the new city council.
“I think there might be a lot of cross-weaving of objectives … going forward,” Dubord said.
“I know one thing for sure, the mayor likes to get things done fast,” he added about Mayor George Harvie. “We’ll be working fast to make sure we keep up with the speed he’s running.”