Popular RCMP Sgt. Fran Bethell is leaving Lillooet and taking a lateral transfer to Kamloops.
“I’ll still be a sergeant, so it’s not a promotion. It will be a more specific kind of role,” said Sgt. Bethell, who’s been with the Mounties for 22 years. “My motivation for going back to Kamloops is my husband is living and working there. The move is really more about our personal lives than anything.”
Bethell has been commander of the detachment here for more than three years, including those stressful and exhausting days when the community was evacuated in the summer of 2009 because of a forest fire threat.
She came to Lillooet after postings in Clinton, Kamloops, Squamish, Castlegar and Vancouver.
“I view every move I’ve had as a new challenge, a new place to live and new people to meet,” she says of her transfers with the Mounties.
She will be replaced by Darrell Robinson, who’s been promoted from Corporal to Sergeant in charge of the Lillooet detachment. A new corporal has not yet been named to replace Robinson.
During her time in Lillooet, Bethell says she’s felt supported by and connected to the community.
“I find that there are very interesting, warm-hearted, good people who live here and I can say that I’ve felt very supported by the community while I’ve been here. I’ve also tried to reach out to the community,” said Bethell. “My philosophy around solving crime issues is really about working together in the community. It can’t just be the police’s role to fix things.”
When she arrived in town, she experienced a “big learning curve.
“Lillooet is one of the largest rural policing areas,” she explains. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover and that was a big learning curve for me in terms of ‘How do we as a detachment reach out and work with communities that are a two-hour drive away, how do we provide service, how do we make sure in that kind of environment that officers are safe?’”
Another challenge was the “interesting” activities people are involved in here. She reels off a list – “mining, placer claims, hunters, snowmobilers. Quite a few policing challenges come with those kinds of things.”
Bethell has made a special effort to communicate with the community – writing Year in Review reports, meeting with community members to determine their priorities, updating District Council on a regular basis, meeting with the Bridge River Band, etc. (Bridge River is served by the RCMP, not the Stl’atl’imx Tribal Police).
She says it’s “certainly the RCMP’s perspective that they want detachments sitting down with communities to figure out their priorities.” It’s also part of her own personal approach to her responsibilities as sergeant. She’s worked as a media liaison officer and is a strong advocate of community policing.
“I certainly think communication is important and that works both ways,” the sergeant commented. “We need the community’s help when people see things that are an issue or a concern; we need people to step up and say if they’ve witnessed something. Let us know so that we can move investigations forward.
“Unfortunately, the RCMP has taken some bad press, has been involved in some situations that weren’t positive, but I can say that in this community, the officers who are here are very committed to keeping this community safe and to doing their best,” she stated.
Asked if there’s one thing the public doesn’t know or doesn’t understand about policing she pauses before saying, “Hmmm, that’s a tough one.” She then responds that the public’s perception of policing is based on TV shows where cases are neatly wrapped up in less than an hour.
“I think over time that has given people an odd perspective on what the police do. They think we only work on one case to the exclusion of everything else, that it’s solved in 24 hours, that you can call up on your computer and there’s a master list of people out there with their photos, that there’s a chemistry set on my desk and that I can bring any item back here and instantly analyze it and find out some substance.” By this point, she is grinning broadly at the picture she’s painting. “Even if people don’t believe that completely, it’s kind of the impression they have of police work. The truth is that we are multi-taskers and we have to manage many things at the same time.”
She says she hopes the public is also aware that the police have to work within the rules, procedures and case law established by the courts.
“I think I would want people to know that we have to be so very careful now about investigations and that they follow exactly the rules that the court has set out…I don’t think people appreciate how labour-intensive it is to do an investigation to ensure that what needs to be there to get it into court is there.”
She continues, “That takes time. The TV world presents it as very simple. The reality is that it takes hard work and time. That normally is what sees a good investigation to the end – a lot of dedication, time and effort on our part.”
When she came here, she had two sets of goals – personal goals that included learning more about herself and learning a new role, and an overall goal to improve things in Lillooet.
“I’ve tried to work on the issues the community had: vandalism, drug concerns, building relationships among the youth and focusing on people who are called prolific offenders – those people who are repeat offenders in the justice system. Things have progressed in the last three years; we’ve seen some successes. I hope the community will continue to see us as a partner and continue to work with us.”