Twenty-four people attended the County of Barrhead’s annual ratepayer’s open house at Glenreagh Hall on April 4 and the overlying concern was rural crime.
In addition to reeve Doug Drozd, CAO Debbie Oyarzun, auditor Blaine Clarahan and various members of staff, the only councillor absent was Marvin Schatz who was unable to attend due to a personal issue. Members of the rural crime watch association including Tim George, Richard Raymond and Jan van Roodselaar were also present and Community Peace Officer (CPO) Dallas Choma was in attendance.
County resident Dennis Kasowsky broached the subject of security in the county by asking councillors how they planned on combating the issue.
“My question is what do you plan to do about it? What are your plans to increase security in the area? We’re on our own out there and it’s starting to feel like we can only rely on ourselves, that the onus of protecting ourselves and our property is on us,” Kasowsky said, adding all of the security in the world doesn’t do a lot of good when the justice system is failing the public it is intended to protect.
For his part, CPO Choma agreed.
“It’s happening in every municipality, not just in the County of Barrhead,” Choma said, noting the water station in Lac Ste. Anne County has been broken into 15 times and added the system in place there is the same as the one that the County of Barrhead employs at its own water stations.
Incidentally, the water station at Manola, according to Oyarzun, had been broken into twice in the last year.
“It is an ongoing issue. I’m not going to advocate for the province because they can speak for themselves, but they [provincial government]are proud of themselves for allocating more funds towards RCMP officer training and hiring, as well as additional front-line staff to assist these officers so that they can spend more of their time doing actual policing versus paperwork,” Drozd said, noting there is currently a shortfall of officers for every rural detachment and positions are not being filled.
Drozd said recruits are not coming out of the RCMP’s training facility fast enough to make an impact where their presence is required.
Oyarzun said she believed there are more than 250 vacancies within the RCMP at present.
And Rural Crime Watch Association president Jan van Roodselaar, who spoke first as a resident, lauded the policing efforts by both the RCMP and CPOs like Choma.
“We have officers like [Choma] who are doing a hell of a great job and Sgt. [Bob] Dodds, from the Barrhead RCMP detachment, he’s doing the absolute best that he can. It isn’t their fault, but rather it is our society’s fault. Somehow, someway, it’s gone trashy on us,” van Roodselaar said, adding if the onus is on anyone, it is on everyone.
Coun. Bill Lane said the county has increased the hours of policing for the CPOs it employs and Oyarzun agreed.
“We have increased the number of hours our peace officers work in the area and it has really helped, but it wasn’t very much before,” Lane pointed out, adding he agreed that the current justice system was not very effective in deterring repeat offenders.
Another resident argued that unless there is a police officer on every corner with the justice system in place to back them up, nothing would ever change.
“The major thing here is that we don’t hear about every instance of criminal activity in the area,” Choma said, noting a rural crime watch initiative has been approved with both the town and county councils and urged residents to consider a membership.
“You live in a large county. It is hard to cover the entire county in 10 hours. It’s nearly impossible so by having the rural crime watch out there, active and having you guys, as the public, out there watching over your own neighbourhoods as well, you can help by reporting any suspicious activity you see.
“That information is relayed to us and it will allow us to know where to focus our time specifically because criminal activity happens in areas at a time. It doesn’t happen all over the county, all at once. One minute it might be in Thunder Lake and there might be five hits in one week but we don’t know that unless each and every instance is reported.”
Residents need to make reports when they have been victimized, whether through the Rural Crime Watch Association or the RCMP, he said.
“Communicate this so that we can focus our efforts in areas that are being hit. A lot of times we drive around, going through every subdivision in an area, and we don’t see anything at all. We are trying to make appearances in every neighbourhood but we need to know where this stuff is happening.
“If you don’t report it, how are we supposed to know what’s happening? Please, join the rural crime watch and help us. That way we can document where the problem areas are and focus our resources where they are most needed.”
The court system needs to be changed, Choma agreed.
“But we aren’t the ones who are going to do that. Our job is to do our best to prevent crime in the community, to slow it down and we need you guys to help with that. Report every instance. Join the rural crime watch. Work with us. If you aren’t passing off the information that might be helpful, that might assist us in making arrests, you’re not doing your part.
“Most crime is committed with vehicles that are stolen. Plate numbers won’t help because in most cases, we’ll find the vehicles but there’s nobody in them. Criminals are smart. They aren’t going to use their own vehicles to perpetrate crimes. They’re going to do it with stolen vehicles and stolen licence plates and that isn’t going to stop.”
“I joined the rural crime watch myself tonight and I hope more of our residents, not just in my division but throughout the entire county do as well. Get your neighbours involved and join it yourselves. The more people we have who are part of it, the more effective we will be,” Lane added.
For more information, contact the Barrhead RCMP at 780-674-4848 or the County of Barrhead at 780-674-3331.