Wetaskiwin RCMP open house probes community-driven priorities

Wetaskiwin RCMP open house probes community-driven priorities

Wetaskiwin residents seek increased communication from police department

The Wetaskiwin RCMP detachment is hosting a series of open house event to gain face-to-face feedback from community members on many topics, including concerns, 2018 priorities, crime watch, and community involvement.

The first of five open houses took place Jan. 18 at the Memorial Arts Centre in Wetaskiwin.

In speaking with presenter Insp. Keith Durance, several residents mentioned they would like to see more communication coming from the RCMP detachment, warning residents of trending crime spikes.

Residents also feel there is a communication disconnect between the RCMP and rural crime watch groups.

“Working together will help us out big time,” said Sgt. Corey Kyle.

This spring the Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System (AFRRCS) system will be launched to help increase communication between service members and aid public safety. Durance says the public will be unable to listen to the communications, meaning criminals also will be unable to tune in. “You guys are going dark in May.”

Other technologies, including blanket emails and blanket apps would also help better communication between RCMP, rural crime watch groups, and residents.

Durance says there are times when the detachment will have to prioritize the order they respond to calls; response times are also impacted by call volumes coming into dispatch call centers. “There is a capacity issue at our call centers. Capacity-wise is where you’re going to see a time delay,” said Durance.

Municipalities have seen a zero per cent increase in provincially funded RCMP members in the last four years.

Durance says one of the detachment’s main priorities for 2018 is a consistent focus on targeting prolific offenders.

Durance explained many crimes, such as break and enters, thefts from motor vehicles, and thefts of motor vehicles can sometimes be solved in bunches by identifying key prolific offenders.

“Theft from vehicles is a theft of opportunity,” said Durance. He added, unless the offender is a sophisticated criminal, thefts of motor vehicles is also a crime of opportunity.

In the City of Wetaskiwin, 37 per cent of stolen vehicles were either left with the keys in them or where running while unlocked. In the rural areas that number was higher at 42 per cent.

Other priorities mentioned during the evening — some coming from Durance and other suggested by residents — included increased RCMP visibility and addressing the city’s vagrancy issues.

One member of the audience questioned if city bylaw services could be given more responsibility to help deal with the issue. However, Durance says peace and bylaw officers only have so much capability and jurisdiction.

“It’s a social issue. We’ve had this social issue for decades,” said Durance.

He explained tacking the matter solely from an enforcement point of view can be time consuming, especially in fair weather. “The only real good chance we have is to work collectively with all the social groups in the city.”

Continual agency interaction both inside and outside of the justice system will help to bridge the gap in support services many vagrants face now, says Durance.

He added restricting alcohol sale hours do not have a large effect on those committed the lifestyle that can lead to vagrancy.

Approximately 25 to 30 people attended the evening; local politicians and municipal representatives, city and county residents, and two individuals representing the First Nations population of the area—one a court worker and the second a youth worker. Lucy Johnson, court worker with the Maskwacis Justice Society, stood to express her concern that more Indigenous people had not attended, as they are a part of the community and she would have like to see them get involved to also be a part of the solution.

Durance mentioned in the future the RCMP will be meeting with the four chiefs of Maskwacis.

The remaining RCMP open houses will take place Feb. 1 at Lakedell Hall, Feb. 8 at the County of Wetaskiwin Central Community Centre, and Feb. 15 at the Town of Millet Community Hall; each event starts at 7 p.m.

amelia.naismith@pipestoneflyer.ca