Slave Lake town council cancelled its regular meeting last week, but held a special session on crime. It was a follow-up to the discussion of a couple of weeks earlier, when a group of industrial property owners presented its case to council.
The case is an upswing in brazen thefts from industrial yards in and around town in recent weeks and months. Along with it is an impression that the law enforcement authorities aren’t taking it seriously enough.
Last week’s discussion covered pretty much the same ground as the one at the May 21 council meeting. The main difference was the presence of John Spaans, the staff sergeant of the Slave Lake RCMP detachment. Spaans put the detachment workload in perspective with some statistics.
“In 2018 we had 4,500 calls for service,” he said. “That’s 700 files per member. That’s above average.”
Spaans also admitted there had been mistakes, and efforts are being made to not repeat them. He didn’t specify, but was likely referring (possibly among other things) to a couple of industrial-area thefts to which the response was not satisfactory.
The spokesperson for the industrial property owners was again Duane Hodge of Eagletech Electric.
“Everybody here wants the same outcome,” he said.
The question is how to achieve it.
“There are a few options,” said mayor Tyler Warman. “They’re all going to cost money.”
Getting specific, he asked Hodge if his company would be willing to contribute to the cost of hiring a security firm to patrol the industrial area.
“Sure,” said Hodge.
How about fencing and lights, was Warman’s next question. They don’t seem to make a difference, said Hodge.
Spaans suggested a less-costly measure.
“I’d like to see an industrial crime watch,” he said.
Part of the problem, as discussed before, is that the justice system doesn’t seem to do enough to keep convicted criminals off the street. The proverbial ‘slap on the wrist’ is not helping – at least in the opinion of most of the people in the room.
Councillor Robert Esau of the M.D. of Lesser Slave River offered an example: A young woman got a $400 fine for her part in a $100,000 theft spree in the Dapp area (as reported in the Apr. 12, 2016 edition of the Westlock News).
“That’s nothing more than a business license,” he said. “The judicial system has to come under review.”
Municipal leaders will be lobbying the provincial government on that level. In the meantime, what does the RCMP think business owners can do to deter theft?
“Make it as difficult as you can,” said Spaans.
Sgt. Don Racette – also in attendance – spoke up for surveillance cameras. They can make a difference, he said.
Town councillor Darin Busk: “We have to make ourselves as difficult a target as possible. Everybody has to work together. Be on the lookout.”
As to who is doing the thefts, it appears there are two distinct types. One is local people, who generally are unsophisticated in their approach and tend to get caught. Many of them are known to police. One, the group heard, had just been arrested the night before for the seventh time. This is the type that is frustratingly back out on the street too quickly. The other type – much more sinister – is organized, professional and from elsewhere.
“That’s their job,” said Spaans. “They’re not from here. They’re traveling thieves. They drive here, pillage, drive back to Edmonton. Drive to Kitscoty, pillage, drive back.”
One idea is to make it more difficult for these crooks to sell their stolen scrap metal. The Rural Municipalities Association passed a resolution calling for exactly that, said M.D. councillor Brian Rosche.
Another thing that might help, Warman said, is more and better reporting of incidents of theft, no matter how small.
“It helps build a case,” he said – the case being for enhanced resources, or changes to the system. Lobbying, in other words.
Councillor Busk had another suggestion: check vacant buildings regularly. Apparently somebody had a wire-stripping operation set up in a vacant industrial building, unbeknownst to the owner. The group wrapped things up with an agreement to stay in better contact and share information.