New RCMP unit targets domestic, sexual abuse

The Yukon RCMP now has a specialized response unit set up to deal specifically with cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and child welfare.

The Yukon RCMP now has a specialized response unit set up to deal specifically with cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and child welfare.

The four plain-clothed officers in the unit all have specialized training to help them do those types of investigations, said Cpl. John Marinis, the officer in charge of the unit.

“As an example, one of our members has extensive background in social work and involvement in child investigations,” he said.

In addition, two of the unit’s officers are instructors in a course that deals specifically with interviewing small children.

“It does take a certain type of skill to interview very young children,” said Marinis.

“That’s something that we’re trying to enhance for (all the police) across the territory,” he added.

Part of the unit’s job is to train other officers to better deal with these kinds of sensitive cases and help out with investigations where extra resources are needed.

“It’s those special circumstances that come up every once in a while that you need more hands-on assistance,” said Marinis.

For especially high profile or sensitive cases, the unit might even take over the investigation.

While most of its work is in Whitehorse, the unit also has the ability to fly out to any of the Yukon’s communities at a monument’s notice. And they do, said Marinis.

“Sometimes with one or two police officers it takes a while to get through some of the mandatory initial things that you have to cover off,” he said. “Statements, canvassing, those are things that have to be done forthwith.

“You need to arrange it and take it and do it first day. When some of those things are left for the second and third day, the quality of the investigation goes down, so it’s in the best interest that we go out and get that done first instance, right off the bat, so it’s fresh in everybody’s mind and the best evidence is there.”

And then there are the victims.

“Sometimes they’ve had a bad experience in the past and we’re able to guide them,” said Marinis. “It’s scary not knowing what’s going to happen so we take the time to explain to those people, ‘this is what to expect.’”

A big part of the unit’s job is to help connect victims and investigators with government-run entities like Family and Children’s Services, and women’s groups or other NGOs.

The unit reviews every investigation in the territory that deals with sexual assault, domestic violence or child welfare for quality of response.

Meanwhile, the Yukon Department of Justice is monitoring the unit itself. It was the territory that ponied up the $678,000 a year to set up the unit.

“We also want to ensure that the team is performing as intended,” said Jeff Ford, the director public safety and investigations for the Department of Justice. “We put in an evaluation framework and will have an independent evaluator for the next three years that will track both quantitative and qualitative data and be able to tell us what kind of results the team is having.”

The call to create this specialized unit was one of the 33 recommendations that came out of the 2011 review of the territorial police, Sharing Common Ground.

The review was commissioned after a scandalous couple of years for the Yukon RCMP.

In 2009, two Watson Lake officers were charged with sexual assault, but later acquitted.

A year prior to that, Raymond Silverfox died of pneumonia after spending 13 hours in police custody. A tape of the incident showed officers mocking Silverfox as he lay for hours in his own vomit and excrement.

The new unit has been working for a year but was only fully staffed in January.

So far it looks pretty good, said Ford.

“I think what the team has done already in the last year has increased confidence in terms of some of the service providers to the women’s community in Whitehorse and elsewhere and increased the confidence that there is an informed and effective response to domestic violence and sexualized assault in the territory,” he said.

It can be a challenging job dealing with these kinds of sensitive investigations, but Marinis stops short of calling it difficult.

“In some cases it can be the most satisfying because there are truly victims out there,” he said.

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