Merritt's new top cop works to improve safety
Six weeks into the job, the Merritt RCMP’s new top cop is getting familiar with the community and she’s starting to notice an over-abundance of drunkenness.
Staff Sgt. Sheila White has worked for the RCMP for the last 26 years, and makes it her mission in each community she lives to determine what needs to be done to improve public safety.
She’s caught on quickly to the drunkenness in the city’s downtown, the vandalism, domestic violence and the break-and-enters — which she said are the main local criminal activities.
“Unfortunately, the public drunkenness is more of a social problem than a police problem, and it’s not going to be solved by police,” she said. “It would be a pipe dream if anyone thought police could solve that problem.”
She experienced the same problem while living in Smithers, B.C., her last town of residence where she served as the detachment commander.
“[Drunks are] a revolving door for us,” she said. “We pick up the same people over and over and over again. We even have numerous examples of someone being picked up, say at noon for being drunk, they sober up in our cells, they are released, and quite often they are back in cells before midnight — that’s very frustrating.”
She said police can’t address the issue themselves, but need a “co-ordinated effort with whatever agencies can be involved.”
Since arriving in Merritt, she has also heard about the vandals, but said that has simmered down since the beginning of summer.
Domestic violence is also a major issue in Merritt, with drugs and alcohol often as precursors, she said.
The number of break-and-enters, however, has surged in recent weeks.
“I strive to make the community I’m living in that much better, and that much safer,” she said. “But in Merritt I’m still learning what the expectations are and the big one in here is safe homes.”
White said she was surprised with the reaction of a few vocal individuals who complained about excessive police presence at the Great Canadian Bike Rally.
Organizers of the rally slammed police during a public meeting at Merritt City Hall.
Police argued with critics who claimed the RCMP turned away hundreds of people just for riding their motorcycles.
White, an avid rider herself, said the claims are unfounded and she has never heard in her career about people wanting fewer cops.
“That was the first time I’ve had to answer questions from the community about having too many police officers at an event,” she said. “It was a surreal moment for me.
“I’ve had to answer questions about why there are too few police and the public demanding more police presence.”
The four-day rally didn’t result in any serious injuries or traffic accidents.
“Usually police are welcomed to an event like that to ensure the safety of everyone involved,” she said.
White spent 11 years in Smithers, over the course of two periods. She also served in the B.C. communities of Houston, Chase and Princeton.
“I moved here for a couple reasons,” she said. “I was at the point in Smithers where there wasn’t a lot of work that was left for me to do there.”
The Merritt detachment has a larger staff base than the Smithers unit.
“And this is as big as I’d go. I’m not a Vancouver girl or a Toronto type of person. I like to be able to walk down the street and actually recognize people.”
Along with her husband, she is an avid motorcyclist, which is a hobby well accommodated by the rolling roads throughout the Nicola Valley.
Kamloops is also a short drive away, which suits her husband, as he has relatives living there.
White is from St. Mary’s Bay, an area in Newfoundland with several small communities, but moved to B.C. for her first job with the RCMP 26 years ago.
While in Newfoundland, in Grade 6, she was introduced to an RCMP officer who visited her school.
“The Mountie that came did a school talk, and he took our fingerprints, told us a few stories and I knew right then and there that this is what I want to do,” she said.
She then received her training in Regina, before moving to her first job in Princeton.
“And here I am today, 26 years on the job and I still love it. I love every minute of it.”
White took over for former Staff Sgt. Stuart Seib, who was suspended from the RCMP and then resigned after being charged in January for allegedly stealing and using cocaine from a police evidence locker.