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Bad boys, bad boys, RCMP WEST are coming for you

WEST targets high-profile offenders with outstanding warrants and are based in Saskatoon, Meadow Lake, and Prince Albert.
S/Sgt Ryan How, is the Regional Manager North of the Strategic Enforcement Response Team [SERT], which oversees the Warrant Enforcement Suppression Team [WEST], the Crime Reduction Teams [CRT], and Saskatchewan RCMP Trafficking Response Team [ STRT].

SASKATCHEWAN – Prolific offenders who are a threat to the public may want to think twice before trying to evade the law after the province expanded an elite policing unit aimed to hookem and bookem.

The Warrant Enforcement Suppression Team [WEST] targets high-profile offenders with outstanding warrants. The WEST teams are based in Saskatoon, Meadow Lake, and Prince Albert.

“They are extremely mobile and able to coordinate on an offender extremely fast,” said S/Sgt Ryan How, the Regional Manager North of the Strategic Enforcement Response Team [SERT], which oversees WEST, the Crime Reduction Teams [CRT], and Saskatchewan RCMP Trafficking Response Team [ STRT].

As SERT’s regional northern manager, S/Sgt How leads the Prince Albert WEST team, as well as the Prince Albert CRT, Meadow Lake CRT, and La Ronge CRT. Saskatoon/Meadow Lake WEST recently transitioned to the central manager.

“I’ve been able to study and participate in senior police leadership training as well as other courses focused on developing high functioning teams. Under the SERT model, I’m excited to apply this training as I am already seeing the teams getting excellent results. My goal is to make their jobs easier and support the teams in any way I can.”

S/Sgt How brings a holster full of experience and skills to his new role. He joined the RCMP in 2006 and has done all of his service in Northern Saskatchewan in busy posts working alongside communities struggling with gang violence and a variety of social issues.

“This work is very challenging, especially over a long term but I find it rewarding,” said S/Sgt How.

He is also an active crisis negotiator for the provincial team and an RCMP firearms instructor.

The creation of the Prince Albert WEST was announced in the November Throne Speech at a cost of about $1.6 million. Prince Albert WEST will consist of eight RCMP officers, one analyst and one administrative support position.

“I’m pleased to see that our members are interested in joining this unit,” said S/Sgt How. “I anticipate it being operational in early 2023.”

Saskatoon WEST has been operational since April.

All WEST RCMP vehicles are covert and not highly visible to the public. 

“There are a lot of techniques the members use to ensure they aren’t noticed,” said S/Sgt. How.

First tasks in new role

S/Sgt How said he is working with highly experienced RCMP officers with exceptional backgrounds coming from a wide variety of experience that makes the teams stronger.

“We’re seeing this with Prince Albert WEST as well, a very diverse group of hard-working members forming a high functioning team.

“I need to learn from them to understand my role before anything else," he added. "I work closely with the other two regional managers in the SERT program [Central and South] and we’re developing a consistent focused approach to crime reduction. We also want the SERT teams to be desirable for RCMP members to join, so finding ways for them to perform at a high level while making sure they have adequate time off is definitely a priority."

WEST members must have extensive operational experience.

“They are involved in advanced techniques that require an in-depth knowledge of the law. They also need to be tactically aware so they can arrest very dangerous offenders on their terms safely.”

All members of SERT need to be flexible and pivot as needed, he said.

“Offenders don’t operate on schedules and routines, so the teams need to mobilize quickly. They need to have a strong work ethic and be able to function in a team. They can spend some very long hours travelling or doing surveillance so they have to work well together.”

S/Sgt How acknowledges that the work WEST, CRT, and STRT RCMP members do is extremely dangerous and additional supports for them are in place.

“This is the challenge for us as managers to make sure we’re listening to feedback from the teams and getting them the supports they need. The RCMP has made a lot of progress recently with ensuring supports are available for members. The Chaplaincy Program, Peer to Peer Program, and Support for Operational Stress Injury are invaluable resources.

“But it comes back to teamwork again, a high functioning team looks after each other and ensures that individual members are supported,” he added.

WEST, CRT, STRT, and SERT work together

The roles and responsibilities for each WEST and CRT unit are still being determined, said S/Sgt How.

“As Prince Albert WEST becomes operational in 2023, I anticipate they’ll be working together frequently. While the teams have different mandates, they can certainly complement each other.”         

The RCMP CRT teams aim to reduce gang activity and have the ability to react fast. They perform proactive and reactive policing in high visibility patrols. The CRT units tackle gang violence, gun crime, and the sale of dangerous drugs such as crystal meth and fentanyl. 

The CRT unit will be involved in project-based enforcement as well as overt visibility. They’re capable of running long-term investigations to disrupt the drug dealers that every community has, that has always been there and seemingly untouchable, said S/Sgt. How.

The RCMP STRT teams provide the expertise of long-term projects beyond the role of the CRT. STRT concentrates on the disruption of inter and intra-provincial criminal groups engaged in trafficking of controlled substances and firearms.

“All teams have specific mandates but will work closely and complement each other.”

Over the last few months that the SERT teams have become operational, they have faced unexpected challenges.  

“Thankfully we have such a diverse management team that someone has always had a solution,” said S/Sgt How.

“It can be very dynamic for managers when WEST teams are deploying to locate offenders in different provinces while simultaneously dealing with all the logistics surrounding prioritizing the CRT teams to help detachments facing extreme flare-ups of gang violence.”

Gang violence continues to be an issue. In 2021, Saskatchewan had the highest number of gang murders in the country at 2.12 per 100,000 population, which is a nine per cent increase from 2020, according to Statistics Canada. 

“We certainly acknowledge there is a gang presence in the province, but we’re also committed to targeting criminality and behavior rather than simply gang activity,” said S/Sgt How.

“We use gang involvement as just one metric in prioritizing offenders. Street level gangs are very fluid and have almost zero loyalty. By targeting the level of violence an offender is known for, it becomes more effective than just focusing solely on gang ties.

"Gang life is a result of social problems that police aren’t able to counteract at the root level, so we focus on criminality.”

Some of the most devastating violence the RCMP see are on more remote First Nations where offenders attempt to intimidate the community and establish themselves, said S/Sgt How.

“This is where a quick intelligence-led deployment of a CRT team is very valuable to support the detachment.”

The reasons for joining gangs and the social problems leading to these choices don’t fall under SERT’s mandate.

“We are in place to stop violence and reduce crime,” said S/Sgt. How. “STR8 UP is an exceptional organization and are much better suited to tackling gang exit than police. They know the resources available and have the credibility to have these discussions with offenders.”

Lessons from James Smith Cree Nation / Weldon

Criminals are transient and in the last 10 years the RCMP have seen offenders move from a range of neighbouring communities to nation-wide, said S/Sgt How.

“Local level offenders frequently are in all the western provinces and even reaching into the GTA. So that being the case, they can cause problems in all areas of Northern Saskatchewan.”

S/Sgt. How said the James Smith Cree Nation/Weldon tragedy where 11 people were killed and 18 injured in a stabbing rampage on Sept. 4, shed light on how valuable the SERT program is in apprehending these high-risk offenders.

“When our commanding officer stated how many people are on warrant status in the province it seemed to be a shock to the public.  Many offenders have no regard for court-imposed conditions and immediately return to criminal behaviour on release. They understand the jeopardy of being arrested again so their behaviour tends to become very evasive and, at times, desperate.”

He said the arrest of Kurt Miller highlights this. Miller skipped his sentencing hearing in North Battleford Provincial Court in February and was wanted by police for 10 months before he was eventually arrested in Edmonton in November and charged with additional drug trafficking offences.

“WEST tracked him into Alberta and found 10.6 kilograms of suspected fentanyl during the arrest.”

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