File photo

File photo

City of Wetaskiwin RCMP keeping the heat on prolific offenders

Marijuana policing future still cloudy: Wetaskiwin police chief

Wetaskiwin’s RCMP detachment’s community open houses are winding down and unsurprisingly property crime continues to be a priority; crime reduction is not the only hot topic on the RCMP’s radar as the marijuana legalization date looms.

In ongoing efforts to continue building community relations and hear residents’ priorities, the Wetaskiwin RCMP hosted a series of five open houses between Jan. 18 and Feb. 15. The open houses were part of preparations for the detachment’s priority strategic planning in April.

Many of the topics discussed during the open houses included marijuana legalization and impaired driving enforcement, break and enters and property crime, drug abuse relating to property crime, the RCMP bait vehicle program, increased RCMP visibility and positive interactions with the community, vagrancy, Block Watch program and community engagement, theft from motor vehicles, condo security, training civilian members for school resource officer work, prioritizing youth crime, social media plans, and other community volunteer programs.

“Some of these are priorities and some of these are suggestions,” said RCMP Insp. Keith Durance during his Feb. 12 presentation to city council.

Two of the open houses were held within the City of Wetaskiwin, one in the Town of Millet, and two were at County of Wetaskiwin community halls.

Durance says many of the priorities and concerns faced by the region’s rural and urban residents are similar, which then makes the detachment’s Annual Performance Plan (APP) priorities easier to address.

The Wetaskiwin RCMP detachment’s 2017 APP priorities fell under four categories: Policing/Community Relationships, Crime Reduction – Homelessness/Vagrancy, Crime Reduction – Property Crime, Safe Streets – Impaired Driving.

“We’ve made some pretty good strides in some of these areas,” said Durance.

Durance says the community is still seeing an upward trend in property crimes and persons crimes. However, he added these increases are not isolated to Wetaskiwin and communities across the province are facing the same issues.

Coun. Patricia MacQuarrie voiced her concern over the increased number of assaults and sexual assaults in the community, and questioned Durance on whether the increases stem from a change in society or if the numbers were coming from high risk population groups in the community.

From 2016 to 2017 the number of reported assaults in Wetaskiwin jumped from 447 to 629. Within the same time frame sexual assaults increased from 27 to 39, and other sexual offenses rose from seven to 15.

Durance touched on three factors contributing to the rise. One being small changes in demographics within the city.

The economy is another contributing factor. Durance says in a downward trending economy police tend to see an increase in domestic violence and other assault crimes.

“We’re seeing more victims, historical files, coming forward,” said Durance. He explained as assault and sexual assault crimes become topical in the media, such as the #MeToo movement, it is common to see more victims stepping forward, bringing up the statistics.

Coun. Wayne Neilson questioned Durance if he sees the legalization of marijuana significantly impacting policing.

With the legalization of the drug comes changes to the Criminal Code. Durance says the Government of Alberta and police are still working on what these changes will look like. “The wave is coming … the province knows this and they’re working as fast as they can.”

How impaired driving will be monitored and enforced is an ongoing discussion. Roadside testing technology is being developed and tested. However, Durance says some of these technologies are susceptible to extreme temperatures and may not be practical for Alberta.

Durance added the province is also considering implementing a system similar to the British Columbia model for first time impairment offenders. With no aggravating factors, first time offenders could be kept to provincial sanctions. This will free up Criminal Code time in courts. “One more piece to that, they’re looking at blended impairment.”