2020 was an “unprecedented, challenging year” for policing due to global issues that also affected Ponoka, such as COVID-19, anti-racism movements and an ineffective Canadian justice system, detachment commander Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley told Ponoka town council earlier this month.
Smiley and Sgt. Erin St-Cyr gave presentations on year-end stats and the detachment’s annual performance plan to council over Zoom during council’s regular meeting on Feb. 9.
“In my whole career there’s certainly never been a more polarizing time,” said Smiley.
During his presentation, Smiley addressed the murder of a young mother in Ponoka last year.
“If people forget everything (else) tonight, I want you to remember the name Chantelle Firingstoney,” he said.
Firingstoney was 26 years old and a mother of five. She was killed on Nov. 5, 2020, in Ponoka, allegedly by an intimate partner who was out on bail after having been charged with a separate murder that year.
“We can make all the arrests we do … there is a serious missing link here folks, and the prosecutor’s office is one of them, the laws that the criminals are in and back out and re-offend immediately — that is a serious problem,” Smiley told council.
“We’ve got a lot of laws that protect people’s rights … the justice system is concerned with people’s rights, with people who have been arrested and charged, and somewhere along the way, we’ve lost the rights of victims and we’ve lost the rights of citizens to feel safe in their communities.”
Smiley also took aim at those who locally protested after the police-involved deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the U.S.
“It does merit notice though, when Chantelle was murdered, there were no protests,” he said.
“Nobody carried a sign for her in our town. And after a year of a lot of protests, and a lot of attacks on our office, on the institution of policing and on me personally, that didn’t go unnoticed.”
Last year was one of reckoning racial inequality and police brutality for many – leading to a vocal chorus of Canadians calling for defunding of the police.
Over the summer, a central Alberta group took to the streets in Ponoka to protest racism and call for police reform.
Smiley says he feels there is a real disconnect between what a lot of citizens think is a problem compared to what is actually a problem.
According to Smiley, a main issue is recidivism (the tendency of a convicted criminal to re-offend).
“In this country there is very little deterrent, and during COVID – so it could be safer for prisoners – a lot of them were released automatically throughout the year,” he said, adding that courts being shutdown due to the pandemic caused a backlog in the prosecutor’s offices. Smiley claimed this caused some charges to be withdrawn, as well as stays on proceedings.
“I’m not sure what else we can do, as far as making these arrests, liaising with partner agencies such as probation and there’s mandatory counselling for people … we’re focusing on the police work part of the problem,” said Smiley.
“We’ve heard your frustration,” said Mayor Rick Bonnett, adding he and other councillors have brought policing concerns to the Solicitor General’s office and there have been discussions about policing at AUMA.
“The justice system and the judges have to do a better job of holding these people to task and making sure they’re off the streets so we do not have to continue to see and hear you guys going through all that paper work,” said Bonnett.
“We will continue to help push that.”