The policing approach and apparent behaviour of Integrated Road Safety Unit officers around the West Shore is starting to grate on some.
Whether it’s complaints about being pulled over for a random traffic infraction that gets forgotten once the driver, accused of being a suspected impaired driver, blows zero on the breathalyzer; or rants about how such tactics are hampering an already hard-hit hospitality industry, Stew Young seems to hear them all.
The Langford mayor said he’s heard numerous such stories from people in his city about negative encounters with IRSU officers – one came from a fellow city councillor – who have been doing targeted enforcement for impaired driving, largely near pubs.
“When you take a police action of any sort against somebody who is a law-abiding citizen, who has never been pulled over for drinking and driving or doesn’t drink and drive, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth when it’s an over-aggressive nature of policing. It reflects on the police force in general,” Young said.
He estimates that he’s received 20 or so complaints about behaviour by West Shore RCMP officers in the past 20 years, but hears upwards of 40 per year about IRSU.
The regional unit, its members seconded from other police forces in Greater Victoria, including West Shore RCMP, has in recent months stepped up enforcement against impaired driving in the western communities.
Questioned by the Gazette about the roadside manner and tactics of his officers working the West Shore, Capital Regional District IRSU commander, RCMP Staff Sgt. James Anderson said, “generally speaking, no driver likes to be pulled over by the police, let alone (enjoys) receiving a violation ticket or having to give breath samples at roadside.”
He defended his unit’s actions on the West Shore by way of describing the IRSU mandate, which is to “reduce serious injury and fatal collisions through enhanced enforcement.”
That enforcement, he said, is determined through monthly meetings with the heads of other CRD police agencies’ traffic divisions, where they discuss areas in which IRSU coverage would be of benefit. Anderson said he also analyzes historical injury and fatal collision data to determine enforcement locations for IRSU officers.
He quoted 2014 West Shore stats that showed IRSU officers issued 125 immediate roadside prohibitions, which covers everything from blowing in the warn range (at least .05 blood-alcohol content) to “fails” of .08 or more. As well, injury collisions were nine per cent lower in 2014 than the previous year. “I am quite confident in stating that CRD-IRSU helped contribute to that reduction,” Anderson said.
He insisted a very small percentage of the thousands of vehicle stoppages IRSU does in a year through roadblocks or targeted enforcement, result in “negative encounters between the driver and the police officer.” That said, Anderson encouraged anyone with a complaint about IRSU officers’ behaviour to call him directly at 250-380-6206.
Cpl. Kathy Rochlitz, supervisor of the local detachment’s traffic division, said she couldn’t speak to the behaviour of individual officers or the tactics of IRSU, but said in general the partnership between West Shore RCMP and the regional unit has worked out well.
“The priority of our detachment is safe roads, and impaired driving (enforcement) is something that we do on a daily basis,” she said. “Working together we can be a lot more effective than working alone.”
Rochlitz also encouraged anyone with questions or issues about traffic stops or officer behaviour to call her at 250-474-2264.
Ever on the lookout for the best uses of his taxpayers’ money, Young argues that the money spent on IRSU around the region by the provincial government could be better used by municipal and regional departments to provide more policing resources in the areas of traffic safety, impaired driving enforcement and other criminal investigations.
Pub owners cry foul at IRSU tactics
Some individual drivers may get their backs up at being told to give a breath sample when they haven’t been drinking.
What’s worse, say pub operators, is having CRD-Integrated Road Safety Unit vehicles park nearby then pursue any vehicle exiting their establishment, simply because of the perceived connection to alcohol. It’s dealing a crushing blow to an industry still trying to work with the province’s tougher drinking and driving laws.
One pub owner, who spoke to the Gazette on condition of anonymity over fears of further repercussions, said they were all for roadblocks and the need to take impaired drivers off the road. The owner’s problem was with how their customers, especially those who come in just for a meal, and even staff, appear to have been treated.
“My issue is them sitting outside and making my customers feel like they’re criminals,” they said. “I know they are targeting pubs and they’re sitting outside and watching people leave. They’re killing my business and they don’t care.”
CRD-IRSU commander Staff Sgt. James Anderson said with getting impaired drivers off the roads a critical piece of the unit’s primary purpose of reducing serious injury and fatal collisions, officers are going to go where the booze is.
“Enforcement of this nature is accomplished in two ways: police check-stops and targeting areas in communities where alcohol consumption takes place,” he said. “The objective is to hopefully intercept suspected impaired drivers before they enter residential areas and local highways and become a risk to the public.”
Another pub owner who wished to go unnamed for the same reason, also supported the idea of roadblocks to catch people who drink in any type of establishment that sells alcohol. The owner also wondered aloud how many of the hundreds of people who have been stopped coming from his operation or others have actually been ticketed or given roadside prohibitions, not to mention ticketed for the original reason for which they were told they were pulled over.
With many pub operators being proactive by offering shuttle bus service for customers and keeping closer watch on clients’ alcohol intake, he said, the continual targeting of pubs over other establishments that serve alcohol, such as restaurants, hotel lounges and bowling alleys, seems unfair, the publican said.