The small RCMP detachment of about 50 officers that oversees the jurisdiction of more than 30,000 people was out of its depth. Calls were coming in faster than they could be processed, and investigations were often left unfinished as more urgent cases arose, said RCMP Staff Sergeant Warren Brown.
Cook caught a break when Williams Lake was chosen, along with five other B.C. towns, to be part of a pilot project targeting prolific offenders. As it turned out, the majority of crimes were attributable to a small group of repeat offenders from the surrounding area.
She reached out to the RCMP, First Nations leaders and community volunteers in an effort to form a united front. She then partnered with the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development to launch the “Communities That Care” initiative, aimed at promoting positive youth development and engagement.
Prolific offenders were locked up. Volunteer patrols fanned out across the community, calling in suspicious behaviour to the police. Youth who were at risk of, or suffering from, substance abuse problems were offered assistance. Through a grant application, the RCMP was able to bring three First Nations tribes to the table in an effort to pool resources. The elders told Staff Sergeant Brown that it was “the first time that’s ever happened.” Gradually, the mood of the town turned.
“Our approach was, ‘This is not an RCMP problem. It’s not an Aboriginal problem. This is a community problem and we need to bring everybody to the table and start working together,’” she says. “And that has paid off in spades.”
She’s not exaggerating. Between 2008 and 2010, auto theft dropped an average of 71%. Break and enters were down 40% and robberies down 56%.
With momentum building on social issues, Cook set her sights on the economic situation. She recently completed an industrial revitalization strategy initiative to identify potential investment opportunities. Companies are being lured to Williams Lake with tax breaks of up to 100%, and thanks to the efforts of a local cycling advocacy group, a huge new network of mountain biking trails was recently unveiled, putting the town on the map for adventure sports. And a joint effort with Thompson Rivers University (which has a campus in Williams Lake) is underway to attract international students.
The efforts of Cook’s administration earned the town the 2010 Federation of Canadian Municipalities award for planning. There was more good news recently when the nearby copper and molybdenum mine (owned by B.C.– based Taseko Mines Limited) announced a $300 million capital investment, which is expected to create 300 to 400 construction jobs over the next 20 months and up to 140 permanent positions. According to Taseko Mines, the positions will draw almost exclusively from the town’s labour pool.