Pubdate: Mon, 17 Aug 2015
Source: Western Star, The (CN NF)
Copyright: 2015 The Western Star
Author: Rosie Mullaley
Page: 2


A veteran cop's perspective on how offences, policing have shifted 
over the years

Paul Roche was a young constable 26 years ago when he first patrolled 
the streets of St. John's.

A typical shift during those early years with the Royal Newfoundland 
Constabulary might consist of a call of a domestic disturbance, an 
impaired driver, petty theft or simple possession of marijuana.

In most cases, he and his partner could talk things through with the 
offenders, avoid the use of force and then lay charges without incident.

At the end of the day, he'd go back to his desk to fill out the paperwork.

"Things have changed so much," said Roche, who's now a sergeant in 
the major crimes unit and getting close to retirement.

These days, it's not unusual to hear of armed people invading homes - 
with the homeowners there, participating in vicious attacks, violent 
robberies and huge drug operations.

In Roche's view, crimes in the metro area these days involve more 
violence, are more drug-related and have become more complex to investigate.

In a candid conversation at the RNC headquarters this week, Roche 
expressed his opinions about crime and policing then and now, what he 
believes happened in the last few decades and how the RNC, as a 
result, has adapted.

All and all, he said, the type of crimes hasn't changed a whole lot, 
it's the frequency and magnitude that has.

"Back when I started, armed robberies were pretty rare, so when one 
happened, it was a big deal," he said. "Not saying it's not a big 
deal now, but we're seeing so much more of them."

He noticed the big change in crime somewhere around the mid to late 1990s.

No longer was St. John's the kind of city where residents could leave 
their house and car doors unlocked or their shopping bags unattended.

"Stats say violent crime is down, but to me, personally, it doesn't 
seem that way," Roche said.

"I read the files here and I see it's not. We're definitely seeing more of it."

Why the change? In a word, drugs.

"It's really common now that people get drug addictions in the 
thousands-of-dollars- a-week (range) and they then feel like they can 
augment their drug habit by breaking into houses or robbing stores 
.." Roche said.

"I've met people whose lives have been absolutely ruined by drugs."

With the demand for drugs on the rise, dealers and others involved in 
organized crime are ready to exploit new opportunities from a booming economy.

Seizures of marijuana years ago seem miniscule compared to the kinds 
of busts police make now, which mostly involve cocaine and prescription drugs.

"When I was in the drug unit in the mid-1990s, if we were to make a 
seizure of a kilo of cocaine, that was a really big event. Marijuana 
was more prevalent back then.

"So, there's no doubt, there's more drugs coming into the province 
and it costs money, so people must have more money to spend on it. 
There's a lot more disposable income in the province. Just look 
around at the (expensive) vehicles on the road.

"It's changed so much in the last 25 years."

Roche said the increased use of prescription drugs in the late 1990s 
had a huge impact on society.

OxyContin, in particular, became such a problem that in 2003, the 
provincial government established a task force to assess the extent 
of the abuse and develop a plan to deal with the issue.

Roche was part of that task force.

"Around that time, we started seeing a lot of IV drug users in the 
city, and that precipitated to issues on George Street." he said. 
"And then we saw the need for that task force to address some of the 
drug issues. The province then instituted some of their own measures."

Roche said officers still try to treat offenders as they always did, 
by talking them down, but he said that's not as easy anymore.

"As always, (offenders) dictate how the event is going to go," he said.

"You can kind of predict a little more how people under the influence 
of alcohol will react," he said. "But the harder drugs that we see 
nowadays causes a lot of issues and affects how people react when 
they're arrested ...

"People were a little easier to deal with (years ago). We didn't 
have, like we do now, people under the influence of such 
mind-altering drugs because we didn't have as prevalent a drug issue 
back then as we do now."

But it's not just drug use and violent crimes that have increased in 
recent years.

Roche has seen a surge in traffic violations, mainly due to 
distracted drivers with cellphones.

"People hate getting traffic tickets, but you have a better chance of 
getting injured or killed in a traffic accident than you do in 
violent crime," he said.

"People are driving around now with phones, they're distracted ...

"Technology has changed things so much."

These changes in crime have resulted in major changes and advances in 
the police force in order to combat the issue.
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