BLACKFALDS — Tears and outbursts underscored the frustrations of Blackfalds citizens trying to find a way to protect themselves and their children from criminal activities.
Eighty to 100 people jammed into Council Chambers on Wednesday night to meet with town council and the RCMP over safety issues, especially in relation to ongoing problems at an owner-occupied home on Westbrooke Road at the northwest corner of town.
Troubles boiled over last Thursday afternoon, when someone fired at least two gunshots into an unoccupied vehicle outside the house.
At least one more round hit a neighbour’s house, causing more than $1,000 in damage.
People who live in the neighbourhood said they have tried for seven years to get something done with the house, but were unable to get attention until they erected two large signs pointing out the problems they’ve encountered.
The town had them remove the signs from the boulevard in front of the house. But when Chad and Lea Brown moved the signs to their own lawn, they were told they could face a fine of $500 under the town’s new Community Standards bylaws.
The law moves quickly when it comes to enforcing bylaws, but drags it feet where people’s lives are at risk, said an unidentified resident.
Jennifer Howitt, who lives four houses down from the problem home, said people are frustrated because they perceive a lack of action on the part of police and town council.
“We’re not being heard. Our concerns are being brushed aside,” said Howitt.
She then went on to describe the work she has done in her role as one of the two co-ordinators of Neighbourhood Place. Howitt has started an application under the province’s new Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods law.
During the meeting, she struck an agreement with Staff Sgt. Gord Glasgow of the Red Deer Rural RCMP to publish crime statistics in the agency’s newsletters and on its website to let people know what sorts of activities the police are dealing with in Blackfalds.
Howitt is also in discussions with Neighbourhood Watch in Red Deer to talk about setting up a program in Blackfalds. Lea Brown said she has also started an application with SCAN.
At this point, because the program is still new, the Sheriffs Branch is still trying to determine which of its two offices will investigate complaints from Blackfalds, said Brown.
Social worker Laurie Smith, chair of Neighbourhood Place, appealed to people at the meeting to join the town’s Citizens on Patrol group, which is badly in need of more volunteers.
She said the despite the community’s concerns, COP has not had any new applicants in more than a year.
Brown and others said they are unable to help out because they must stay home with small children while their husbands work away in the oilfield for weeks at a time. Brown and Smith both offered to babysit if other mothers want to go out on patrol.
Blackfalds Mayor Melodie Stol said the meeting was called in an attempt to find constructive ways of dealing with problems like the house on Westbrooke Road. She said council was there to learn as well as to let people know what has been done so far.
But Stol could make no promises regarding the fine to be levied in connection with the signs. She said the signs contradicted the town’s bylaw and there had been a complaint, therefore the bylaw has to be enforced.
Area resident Derek Wiseman said that, as far as he is concerned, the signs have been effective in convincing two squatters to leave the house and stopping the steady traffic from people who drive up for a few minutes, and then leave.
Smith offered to poll the community to find out how many neighbours support the signs and how many oppose them.
CAO Corinne Newman said council and administration would talk about what should be done about the signs.