RCMP talks ATVs with Carbonear council
Officer says anonymous complaints less useful than witness statements
Given the opportunity to have a frank discussion with a local officer about policing issues in town, Carbonear council members dug deep into the topic of illegal ATV use.
“We get a lot of calls about ATV use — it’s an awful, awful problem,” Mayor George Butt Jr. said last Tuesday in the council chambers.
Cpl. David Hopkins has spent the last nine years working with the RCMP in Alberta and recently joined the Harbour Grace detachment as a supervisor. Hopkins said it’s an issue that’s cropped up in other detachments where he’s served.
When a call is made, police will come and do a patrol to try and catch the culprit, though he added logistics sometimes make that difficult.
I’m thinking to myself, it’s going to take another fatality before anything is done about this, and I don’t want to see that.
— Coun. Bill Bowman
“What we need to do is let the public know what the laws are, because there’s a lot of confusion about what you can do and you can’t do,” Hopkins said. “I know from experience that certain towns impose bylaws that contradict what the provincial laws are.”
One problem at play is the majority of ATVs in Newfoundland and Labrador are uninsured and unregistered. At their discretion, officers can issue tickets or elect to get the ATV towed.
Hopkins said it is important for people to report incidents to police, adding anonymous complaints are harder to follow up on.
“Unless we find the person committing (the act) when driving the quad, if it’s an anonymous complaint we can’t just go over to subject A’s house and give them a ticket, unless there’s a witness statement to provide us details. So if we have someone who’s willing to witness that … we can lay a charge.”
Hopkins likened the situation to that with impaired driving. For years, people were reluctant to report situations where a driver was likely impaired. But through education and public campaigns, Hopkins said that has changed dramatically.
“It took a while to kind of get that into the mainframe of the general public, that we have to report impaired drivers,” he said. “I’ve seen towns where they’ll have signs — ‘No all-terrain vehicle permitted on streets,’ things like that.”
Coun. David Kennedy, who also teaches at one of the schools in Carbonear, said there’s a perception amongst youth that police cannot catch them, since RCMP vehicle are not in a position to follow ATVs into the woods.
“I know many reports have gone in with so-and-so without a helmet, and the first response from the RCMP is, well, unless you have 100 per cent proof underneath that helmet or coat was subject A, they can’t do nothing,” he said. Kennedy also suggested the situation with
drunk driving and not using seatbelts is a bit different from illegal ATV use, because people are not getting caught.
Coun. Bill Bowman told Hopkins he regularly calls in complaints when he spots ATVs driving illegally along the street he lives on.
“As far as I know, the ATV Act is quite clear in that these vehicles are not permitted on public roads, period,” he said. “It’s really out of hand now. One time you might see one or two bikes coming up the road. Now they have parades, and I don’t mean Santa Claus parades … They’re really going at excessive speeds.”
He always gives his name when calling in a complaint, yet Bowman has yet to notice a police car driving by following his calls.
“That’s not a complaint … because quite honestly, I don’t blame an RCMP officer for not coming. What’s the point? By the time you get there, God knows they’re gone up over the hill somewhere.”
He recalled an accident in 2007 where a young girl was killed. A big meeting took place, and after that, there was a crackdown on ATVs, with vehicles impounded and fines delivered.
“I’m thinking to myself, it’s going to take another fatality before anything is done about this, and I don’t want to see that,” said Bowman.
“I have a lot of respect for the RCMP — I really do. Because I know you guys have a really big territory to cover with not enough people to cover it, and you can’t do it all. You can’t be out chasing around after ATVs. I’m sure that’s way down your priority list. You’ve got a lot more serious crimes to deal with than that … I’d really like to see more people calling in complaints and helping you out in any way.”
Harbour Grace RCMP Cpl. Dave Hopkins spoke at length with Carbonear council members about policing ATV drivers who break the law.
Coun. Bill Bowman wants the general public to continue to file complaints with RCMP about illegal ATV usage in Carbonear.