Residents and police working to make Red Deer safer
Major drug busts on quiet streets in Sunnybrook. A targeted murder inside a parked vehicle at the entrance of an Inglewood close. A rash of vehicle break-ins along residential streets in the downtown.
And the list goes on.
No community in Red Deer is immune from crime.
But what can make a difference is the way residents respond to the criminal behaviour happening in their neighbourhood.
TerryLee Ropchan, executive director of the Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, says Red Deer is a safe community and deals with issues that can be found in every city or town in Canada.
Ropchan said the centre wants to empower residents to create the communities they want to live in instead of moving away because there’s crime in the neighbourhood.
“Residents are key to safe communities,” said Ropchan. “And without them you can hire all the officers you want and you can put out all the programs out there, but if people aren’t getting to know their neighbours and reporting things that are happening . . . then you can’t have safe neighbourhoods,” said Ropchan. “It makes your neighbourhoods disconnected. That opens the door to criminals because they look for neighbourhoods where people don’t care.”
That means participating in community activities, saying “good morning” to neighbours or picking up litter on the street.
The Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre houses volunteer-based Red Deer Neighbourhood Watch Association, Citizens on Patrol and Crime Stoppers. At the centre, residents can find information on curbing or reporting crime.
Red Deer City RCMP Supt. Warren Dosko said these groups represent a key piece of prevention activities in the community.
“Crime prevention is a long-term strategy,” said Dosko, who is charge of the city detachment. “I think if we go into it with that mentality, we are not disappointed when we see little bumps in the road . . . that long-term commitment is essential. That’s a tough sell for some people when you don’t see those results.”
Dosko said there needs to be more focus on building healthy communities, which in turn will prevent crime.
“A big chunk of my energy is spent trying to convince people that it’s not about crime, it’s about healthy communities,” said Dosko.
“Because if we focus on the problem, we get bogged down on the problem as opposed to what are the healthy things in our community we can do to contribute to that.”
Dosko said focusing on children and youth is part of the long-term strategy and its success depends on turning young people into productive adults, which will ultimately create healthier and healthier communities.
“‘Idle hands are a devil’s play’ is very much true when it comes to young people,” said Dosko. “If we take care of our youth, we take care of our future. We know young people only make 20 per cent of our population (but) they are 100 per cent of our future.”
Examples start at home, said Dosko, by being good parents, teaching children to be active citizens, attending community events, volunteering, participating in service clubs and being a good neighbour.
“We know a significant amount of crime happens in our neighbourhoods like theft from vehicles, break and enters and wilful damage,” said Dosko. “If we know who the people who are in our neighbourhood . . . people are less likely to commit crime if they are known.”
In Red Deer, there are well-connected pockets of communities. And there are other areas where anonymity is the norm.
Riverside Meadows is one example of an established Red Deer neighourbood that has fought hard to change its reputation and to create a livable and inviting community. Ropchan said the neighbourhood association is one of the most well-organized and proactive groups in the city.
“They have put a lot of time and effort into what they want their neighbourhood to be,” said Ropchan. “Riverside Meadows is engaged in every change that happens in their neighbourhood. That’s encouraging. That’s an example of how other communities can take charge and have a say.”
Shirley Hocken, treasurer for the Riverside Meadows Community Association, said in 1998-1999 the community began pushing to renew itself. The shift began when the neighbourhood, known previously as Lower Fairview, chose a new name and the city began working on its redevelopment plan in 2000.
“As far as crime, there’s always a certain amount of crime in every neighbourhood,” said Hocken. “Some people will tell you in some of the newer neighbourhoods there’s more crime than there is here.”
Acting on concerns in the community, the association organized a speaker from Safe Communities and Neighbourhoods (SCAN) to talk at a meeting. The provincially-run organization tackles serious crimes and investigates suspicious properties or activity in communities. In December, SCAN shut down a drug house in Inglewood.
“I think as a citizen, the more you are aware of the crimes happening in your immediate surroundings, you will undertake activities (target hardening) that prevent you from becoming a victim,” said Dosko. “For instance, if I know there’s a lot of theft of vehicles in my neighbourhood, I am probably going to remove all the items out of my car at night and lock the doors.”
The city is edging toward releasing more criminal statistics to the public. Dosko said he would like to see “crime mapping” where the crimes are mapped out in the community for a specific period. Dosko said he hopes something can be developed in the next year.
Last year, the city began laying the groundwork for its Safety Charter or work plan to promote community safety. The charter covers prevention and enforcement.
And city administration and the RCMP are close to wrapping up the highly-anticipated review of policing service levels and standards. This will establish the local priorities for enforcement and prevention. The document is expected to be on city council’s plate in March.
“I think where crime prevention has a role to play is it’s not solely based on being delivered by uniform police officers,” said city Coun. Buck Buchanan. “That’s why this (upcoming police standards) review is so important.”
Buchanan said when you talk about safety, all heads turn to policing. As a former police officer, Buchanan said police have taken on extra roles and responsibilities that cannot be sustained over the years.
Buchanan said the key to making communities safer is to get residents working together for a unified cause.
“As a community will we accept this type of behaviour?” said Buchanan. “I don’t necessarily feel our community is not safe. I do not think Red Deer is an unsafe to place to be.”
• Find out how you can get involved in making your neighbourhood safer through programs like Neighbourhood Watch, Citizens on Patrol, Crime Stoppers, SCAN and other organizations by visiting the Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre at 4711 51st Ave. or 403-986-9904 or firstname.lastname@example.org.