Vernon RCMP responds to criticism it left seniors home in the lurch

Watch: The head of the Vernon RCMP detachment is defending against accusations it took much too long for officers to respond to multiple calls about an aggressive, knife-wielding man.

The head of the Vernon RCMP detachment is defending her officers’ response time after allegations they left a seniors home in the lurch earlier this month, when an aggressive knife-wielding man showed up outside.

Now, Supt. Shawna Baher is promising the force will learn from the incident.

As Global News previously reported, Vernon Restholm said multiple calls were made to 911 on August 14, reporting a man with a knife acting aggressively outside the seniors home.

“I said, ‘This guy has a big knife, he is threatening our tenants and all the rest of it,'” recalled Restholm resident Maurice Tellier, a few days after the incident.

“I said, ‘I got 60 seniors here and I need help now.'”

The man can be seen on surveillance video kicking a door and throwing a patio chair.

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The Restholm’s general manager Jerry Tellier said staff and residents were terrified as the incident went on for over a half an hour.

Jerry Tellier said police didn’t arrive until 15 minutes after their third 911 call when they first reported the man had a knife.

In an interview with Global News on Tuesday, Baher defended her officer’s response time, blaming the delay on another call taking priority.

“This wasn’t the police officer not responding to the call,” Baher said.

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Instead, Baher said the delay came from the RCMP’s Operational Communications Centre (OCC) which prioritizes calls and dispatches officers.

She said the Restholm call came in around the same time as police were called about concerns a person could be hit by a train and that was originally given priority.

As more calls came in from the seniors home, it became the top priority and officers were dispatched there.

“I’m confident our members responded as soon as they heard the call come in. They responded within three minutes,” Baher said.

“When the members attended, they feel that they had a very good response time and I would agree. To be there on premise within three minutes is an exceptional time period.

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“They came there thinking they were there in three minutes.”

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While we now have the benefit of looking at this incident in hindsight, Baher points out dispatchers have the difficult job of prioritizing calls quickly.

“I think they did as best as they could with the information they had, but realistically, if I look on it now, I see that that call should have been prioritized faster,” Baher said.

WATCH BELOW: In an extended interview, Supt. Shawna Baher defends her detachment’s response to the Vernon Restholm.
Extended interview with Vernon’s detachment commander
Extended interview with Vernon’s detachment commander

Despite defending their response time, the head of the Vernon detachment is promising the RCMP will learn from the incident.

“The delay happened with the OCC centre and I’m committed to following up with them and ensuring that is rectified for future,” she said.

When police did arrive at the seniors’ complex on August 14, they made an arrest and have since recommended charges of mischief and possession of a dangerous weapon.

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Restholm general manager Jerry Tellier, a former police officer himself, was also critical of the RCMP handling of the incident.

Once on scene, Tellier said,  the officer only spent a few minutes investigating.

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Baher defends her officer’s actions on the call.

“The member had to arrest someone and bring them back to custody. We don’t normally keep someone in custody in the back of our car,” Baher said.

“There were statements taken on that file, there was video pulled on that file, there was a report to Crown council being completed on that file so to say that they investigated for three minutes, I’m not certain if that is 100 per cent factual because there is a lot of investigation that goes on away from the scene.”

The case also raised questions about whether the Vernon detachment has enough officers. Baher noted the number of files the detachment deals with is increasing, but said Vernon has “enough officers to adequately deal with issues when we dispatch to them.”

Baher said last year the number of Vernon officers increased from 50 to 56.

— with files form Jules Knox and Danny Seymour

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