Property crimes shooting up, says new RCMP commander

But more than half are in the ‘mischief’ category

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake’s RCMP detachment commander, Staff Sgt. John Spaans, presented town council last week with policing statistics for 2017. The most eyebrow-raising of these was a jump in property crimes since 2015. That year it was 589; in 2017 it was up to 898.
“A dramatic increase,” Spaans said.
Dramatic, but partly explainable, he continued, by record-keeping practices that were counting certain complaints as ‘mischief’, rather than liquor offenses. Mischief in fact made up 497 of the 898 incidents.
Collisions were up a bit in town last year. They were “mostly minor,” he said, with only one injury.
Spousal abuse complaints numbered 141 in 2017. Spaans said his people take this sort of thing “very seriously.” If there’s a bright side to the relatively higher numbers in recent years, he said, it may be that people are simply reporting such things more than they used to.
Criminal record checks are becoming very common. There were 915 requests for such from the detachment in 2017, the latest high in an upward trend.
“We have pretty much one person doing it all the time,” he said.
On the staffing side, 12 constables and one cadet on his/her way make a full complement on the town side of policing. Two members have been transferred and are waiting for their houses to sell. Sgt. Marlene Brown – who was in that state of limbo for some months – has been able to sell her house, Spaans said, and will be leaving March 1. She’ll be replaced by a Sgt. Racette, who arrived on the same day. He bought Brown’s house.
Reducing crime is a strategy in 2018, Spaans continued. Instead of just reacting all the time, “we’re trying to ‘get in front’ of criminals.”
In other words, identify a few of the “prolific offenders,” and let them know they are being watched.
“The theory is crime will go down,” Spaans said.
The General Investigation Section (two members in plain clothes) will be diverted into some of this type of work. Curfew checks, warrant checks and that sort of thing.
Councillor Darin Busk asked if officers are going to be ready come July of this year to deal with impairment by marijuana.
“Slowly but surely,” Spaans said. “Presently we have one officer trained.”
Councillor Joy McGregor asked Spaans about the “thorn in my side,” – that being people who pass school buses when they are loading or unloading.
Spaans said police are working with the High Prairie School Division on it. Twelve tickets have been issued in recent months. Surprisingly, “most came back with not guilty pleas.”
Councillor Julie Brandle asked Spaans for his thoughts on automated traffic enforcement.
“I’m not a huge fan of hiding the truck and trying to snag people,” Spaans said. He said he’d spoken with the contractor about that and hopes to increase visibility.
On a related topic, Spaans said new RCMP members don’t seem to have much appetite for writing traffic tickets. It wasn’t always like that. He said when he first came to Slave Lake, back in 2005, “it was a competition,” to see who could issue the most tickets. Not so these days.
“I’d like to see noses in vehicles more,” said Busk.
Councillor Rebecca King asked if the RCMP have noticed any differences as a result of the revival of the overnight shelter Mat Program. Yes, said Spaans. “It saves us a lot of clients.” (People lodged in cells, in other words.)
“How’s your facility?” asked Busk
“Touch and go,” said Spaans, mentioning a recent gas leak and hot water problems. A new detachment is needed, and it’ll likely be a municipal responsibility.
“That’s why we want to know,” said Busk.
Maybe within 10 years, Spaans said. He noted that Lac La Biche’s new detachment cost about $10 million.
Mayor Warman thanked Spaans for his report.
“I think it’s important council knows what the RCMP is up to and that the public knows,” he said.

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