Questions and concerns posed at the Hinton RCMP Town Hall held March 11 as part of an ongoing commuity consultation initiative will help set the tone for policing in 2021.
The RCMP sets its priorities this month, which may change through the course of the year as different issues and concerns come up.
After a quick presentation of local crime statistics, initiatives, and past priorities, the RCMP addressed concerns from the public, starting with one from Yellowhead County regarding how the RCMP covers rural areas.
Staff Sgt. Chris Murphy explained that Hinton’s RCMP covers a large rural area around Hinton. Members patrol the area and want to be visible in those areas just as they are in Hinton.
Between April and December of 2020, the RCMP did 552 proactive rural patrols. These patrols don’t include the RCMP responding to complaints.
“This goes back to, if we have a number of complaints of theft for instance, putting resources in that location at that time,” Murphy said. “Making it that much more difficult for individuals to commit crimes in that area.”
The overall decrease of crimes in 2020 is partly due to more people being home and businesses being shut, as well as the thorough investigations held by the RCMP, he added.
“I can tell you that it was a province wide trend, not just Hinton alone. Many many areas saw this reduction in crime, and I think a lot of it was crimes of opportunity,” Murphy said.
Besides more people being home, Murphy believes the RCMP strategies and initiatives put in place like identifying crime hot spots and putting the right resources in the right place and time has helped. Sgt. Graham Gurski added that hotspotting strategies also include the rural areas around Hinton.
Many of the property crimes are committed by a small group of people that move from one jurisdiction, town, or county to another.
By working with a team of units across the province to investigate and connect the dots between various crimes, offenders have been located and arrested across Alberta, including in Hinton, Murphy said.
“It’s very important that we communicate with our neighbouring detachments, communicate with our partner agencies, and that we work together to deal with the prolific and habitual offenders in these situations,” Murphy said.
Gurski responded to a second question from Yellowhead County regarding unlawful ATV use on crown land and campgrounds, explaining that Hinton RCMP plans to continue their joint enforcement approach with several other groups.
“We built some very positive working relationships with our partner agencies in Alberta, that includes such groups as Conservation, Alberta Fish and Wildlife, Yellowhead County, Alberta Environment and Parks,” Gurski said. “We identified problems, we know that on the May Long Weekend, for instance, we have a high increase of out of town visitors, off-the-grid camping and whatnot throughout the Brule sand dune area and to the south.”
Using this integrated team, proactive controls are conducted on long weekends and out on the trails regularly.
In response to a question about an auxiliary program, Murphy explained that this program is where individuals from the public can volunteer to go out on patrol with RCMP as extra eyes and ears. The main purpose of utilizing volunteer members from the public on patrols is to gain the community knowledge that officers may not have on their own.
The program was previously on hold due to safety risks, but with recent developments Murphy hopes that more information about when the program is up and running again will come soon.
“As we move forward into 2021 and 2022, it is my hope that we can utilize the auxiliary program. I think it was a very valuable program to the communities and very valuable to the RCMP. I worked with some very wonderful auxiliary constables over the years,” he said.
Another community volunteer program mentioned at the Town Hall was Citizens on Patrol (COP), where citizens come out and drive the streets of Hinton on patrol of anything suspicious.
“They act as eyes and ears and report any suspicious behaviour to the RCMP so we can follow up accordingly,” said murphy.
In the past three and half years since Murphy worked in Hinton, he had several conversations with individuals who were interested in starting up a COP program, but it never went anywhere.
Murphy explained that it can be tough to retain volunteers for programs solely run on volunteers.
“If anybody is interested in the Town of Hinton to learn more about COP, I encourage you to contact the Hinton detachment and ask to speak with Sergeant Gurski or myself. We would be happy to have that discussion with you. It would all begin by forming a board and then looking for volunteers,” Murphy said.
Via social media, some questions were asked about porch pirates and what to do about mail being stolen. Murphy noted that while their statistics may not reflect reality, the RCMP is not receiving additional complaints about these types of thefts. Please report this, he said.
Based on those reports, the RCMP can look at the trends and work with delivery companies to come up with initiatives and strategies to prevent mail theft.
Another common issue that was brought up was theft from vehicles. Theft from vehicles in 2020 was down in comparison to years prior, but this doesn’t make it easier for those victims, Murphy said.
“Whether it’s shoplifting, theft from a motor vehicle, theft from yards, theft from backyards, there’s a lot of things that we can do and work together as a community to make it that much more difficult. What’s really important, even if you think it’s a waste, I just encourage everybody to please report it to us,” Murphy said.
If it’s not reported, it’s very difficult for the RCMP to put the proper resources in the right place at the right time.
Drugs in the community was another issue brought up, and Murphy explained that the RCMP deals with a lot of people that are badly addicted.
The RCMP tries to hold accountable those individuals selling illegal drugs, while also working with local partner agencies to deal with the addictions.
Illegal drugs is an area of continued focus for the RCMP in Hinton, this closely relates to property crime as well.
Murphy explained that while the pandemic made it more difficult to engage with the community, they still managed to attend many events and adjust their practices accordingly.
RCMP members assigned to the schools still visited on a weekly basis, driving or walking by the area. Gurski noted that officers prioritize high pedestrian traffic areas and members are expected to be in school zones during high pedestrian hours.
“We focus on traffic pedestrian safety in those zones, making sure students and staff and citizens in general are safe in areas,” he said.
Based on input from the community last year, the RCMP focused on crime reduction and community consultation.
Murphy urged residents to continue reporting crimes and suspicious persons or vehicles in order for the RCMP to adjust their priorities accordingly.
“We rely on those complaints of thefts or if you’re a victim of any type of crime to report that to us. Also those calls of suspicious vehicles and suspicious people,” Murphy said.
Hinton’s RCMP responded to 234 calls of family violence in 2020, a five-year record high.
In 2020, the Hinton RCMP also recorded 26 investigations for missing persons, all of which were located.
The RCMP responded to 138 mental health calls in 2020, which is expected to increase further into the pandemic.
Break and enters were at a record high in 2019, which was followed by a 61 per cent decrease in 2020. That translates to 76 fewer break and enter incidents. The clearance rate of break and enters, which means solving the crimes, was at 35 per cent in 2020.
Compared to 2019, there was an overall reduction in crime in 2020. These reductions include a one per cent decrease in person crimes, a 35 per cent decrease in property crime, a 31 per cent decrease in other criminal code offences, a 47 per cent decrease in motor vehicle theft, and a 46 per cent decrease in theft under $5,000.
The RCMP also managed to record a five-year low in traffic collisions in Hinton last year.
To report any suspicious behaviour or crimes, call the Hinton RCMP at 780-865-5544.
Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice