Ensuring Woodstock residents and visitors, especially the children, feel safe travelling about the town was the focus of a public drop-in session at AYR Motor Centre on Thursday, June 24.
Woodstock Police Chief Gary Forward and members of his force joined town officials and others to field questions and offer advice to the public about ways to feel and stay safe from unwanted attention while travelling throughout the town.
Although the force is currently investigating recent complaints of young females subjected to unwanted attention from unknown males in early June, Chief Forward stressed Woodstock remains a safe community. Still, he added, all reported incidents deserve a full investigation, and people of any age should know what to do if they feel threatened in any way.
Forward said the investigation surrounding incidents of inappropriate comments and behaviour toward younger girls in the Connell Park Road and Kirkpatrick Street areas remains ongoing, but he expects it completed soon.
“We don’t expect it to be much longer,” he said.
While he believes the investigation of the reported incidents is important, the chief said police see no reason the incidents should be of “ongoing concern” for residents.
He said the police received a couple of additional complaints which seem related to the initial reports.
Forward said investigating officers sift through all complaints to determine what is factual information.
He urges anyone who sees something of concern to provide police with a formal statement. He said police must gather facts through witnesses and actual statements, noting it cannot rely on social media reports.
While the drop-in session, held in the AYR Motors Centre gallery room between 5:30 and 7 p.m. on June 24, didn’t see a high volume of traffic, Forward said the event was beneficial to those who attended and the police and town officials.
Forward explained police always walk a fine line between keeping the public informed about potential threats and not amplifying unwarranted concern.
He said, however, Woodstock police policy prioritizes communication and will always lean towards informing the public about potential safety concerns.
Tobi Pirie, Woodstock’s director of tourism, community events and public relations, said she, Mayor Art Slipp, town CAO Ken Anthony and Andrew Garnett, director of planning, represented the town at the session.
Pirie explained town staff made themselves available to answer questions surrounding the safety aspects of town recreation and cultural facilities.
Celeste Roberts, executive director of the Multicultural Association of Carleton County, also attended the drop-in session.
Roberts said she was happy to see some MACC clients take in the open house. She said area newcomers, while generally welcomed in the community, occasionally face a degree of harassment in public.
Robert added Woodstock police are a strong ally.
“We have a very good working relationship with the police,” she said.
Forward wanted to remind the public that Woodstock is a safe and welcoming place for everyone, but issues of concern can arise from time to time. He encouraged anyone with a problem to contact the police and provide as much detail as possible.
The chief added it is essential for everyone to look out for each other.
“In the end,” he said, “this is not a police issue, but a community issue.”
In addition to personally talking to and fielding questions from visitors, the hosts of the drop-in session handed out a sheet of safety tips which included the following:
* Carry a mobile phone and call 911 immediately anytime you feel your safety is in jeopardy.
* Please walk with a friend or friends at all times, especially at night.
* If walking at night, please stay on main streets near well-lighted areas.
* Arrange to be picked up by family or friends, where and when possible.
* Let your family and/or friends know where you will be and what time you will be home.
* Parents may add a locator app (e.g. iSharing: GPS) to their mobile phones that track their child’s whereabouts.
* Youths may use their mobile phone to record any incident. The action may also deter offenders who do not want to be recorded.
* If approached near residences, run to a nearby house or store to seek temporary protection and call the police.
* Please report any incident and details to your local police as soon as possible.
* Parents and young persons alike are encouraged to limit posts related to personal information and schedules on social media.
* Don’t wear headphones when walking so that you can “hear” what is happening around and behind you.
* Wear reflective clothing or shoes when walking at night.
* Parents may inquire as to where their children may be and who they are spending time with.
* Posting and/or sharing misinformation unnecessarily delays police investigations into factual matters.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun