The RCMP in Manitoba North District wages a steady battle against property crime, drugs, assaults, and murder in an area that stretches from the northern tip of Lake Winnipeg to the Manitoba-Nunavut border.
The Manitoba North District is also home to 24 First Nations communities — seven of them fly-in only. It's a work environment that keeps officers busy and challenged.
The hub of Manitoba's north
Thompson is considered the hub of northern Manitoba and, according to Statistics Canada's annual Crime Severity Index, is one of Canada's most violent places.
"My first year here, it was a bit of a struggle," admits Constable Amanpreet Singh. "A lot of people we deal with have had prior involvement with the police, either accused of crimes or been victimized. Either way, I let them know that if they're co-operative, we can be co-operative and help them."
The RCMP says alcohol impairment is one of the major factors driving calls for service in the town, which is 760 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
In 2022, investments were made in a sobering centre — a place where people can stay short term to sober up. However, it's too early to tell if those facilities are keeping people out of jail and freeing up RCMP officers so they can focus on operational duties.
Superintendent Ryan Mitchell, who was the officer in charge in Manitoba North District early in 2023, says those calls are just a slice of the demands faced throughout the District.
"The detachment here in Thompson is one of the busiest in Manitoba," says Mitchell.
He adds that efforts are underway to focus on recruiting applicants from northern Manitoba who want to live and work in the region, while enjoying the outdoors and cultural opportunities. "We are working to try and showcase what the district has to offer," he says.
Skills and opportunities
One of the ways that's being done is by providing officers with an array of policing opportunities and skills development — like the ones that exist on Manitoba North District's Containment Team.
The team is part of Manitoba's Critical Incident Program and its primary role is to contain active police situations until the arrival of Emergency Response Team members and crisis negotiators.
Team members are often called upon to provide initial support to a detachment during a critical incident, such as an armed and barricaded person, the execution of a high-risk warrant, ice rescues, and active shooters.
That's exactly what happened in 2019 when the containment team played an essential role during the manhunt of two murder suspects, whose bodies were later found in a remote bug-infested area near Gillam, Man., more than 250 kilometres northeast of Thompson. The days were long and hot, but the containment team supported the search that was spread out over a massive area.
"We can take over a scene from general duty officers at a detachment or provide support while waiting for the ERT (emergency response team) to show up or when they're doing their work," says Corporal Colin Stark, who's based in The Pas, 625 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
Support and safety in Tadoule Lake
The containment team has also gone into places like Tadoule Lake, a community normally accessed by plane except during the winter when ice roads are used to deliver fuel, construction materials, and other essentials.
There are no full-time RCMP officers in Tadoule Lake, but the Sayisi Dene First Nation does employ First Nations safety officers who report serious incidents to the RCMP for response.
"They're our eyes and ears in the community," says Sergeant Eric Descôteaux, who manages officers who visit Tadoule Lake and six other remote First Nations communities twice a month. He says it can be a tough job to find people willing to do work as safety officers because they often have to report on their friends and relatives.
Nevertheless, Darrick Hendrick signed up for the job. He says alcohol abuse causes a lot of problems in the area.
"People think I'm getting into their business when I shouldn't be but I'm just trying to help," he says. "I sometimes ask myself: why am I doing this? But people do thank me sometimes for helping them stay out of trouble."
Mitchell says the RCMP will keep working to improve public safety in northern Manitoba.
"Throughout the district, and in places like Tadoule, our goal is to keep everyone safe but to do it properly, we need the input and support of everyone we serve."