Members of the RCMP Downtown Police Force investigate some of the refuse left under Red Deer’s pedestrian bridge. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Better lighting could stop drug use near Red Deer bridge

CPR bridge a focus for downtown police patrol

Adding lampposts to the CPR pedestrian bridge is one way of alleviating worries about people hanging out in the area, says the officer in charge of Red Deer RCMP’s new downtown unit.

Safety at the bridge, which connects downtown to Riverside Meadows, has become a concern due to the number of drug users that residents and business owners say can be found in the area, along with needle debris.

Insp. Dean LaGrange suggested the city add lights at both ends of the bridge, and in the middle, to illuminate it at night and early morning.

“Not only does it give people a sense of security having a light, but it also drives that criminal element away. They don’t like to operate in the bright light where people can see them. They’re drawn towards those dark crevices,” LaGrange said.

“If there’s no lighting there, it’s a natural gathering point, so this would be a simple fix. It would certainly mitigate some of the things were seeing there.”

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Coun. Buck Buchanan, who watched what went on near the bridge one night last summer, said it was a busy crossing and he saw questionable activity.

Buchanan said nearby businesses have seen “people getting naked and people doing all kinds of funky stuff up and down in that area.”

As owner of the security company X-Cops Inc. and a former RCMP officer, Buchanan agreed that lighting would be a good start. But lights would have to be installed up high to prevent tampering, he cautioned.

“There’s probably an assortment of things that you can do, but because of the geography and the age of the bridge, they’ll all probably be pretty costly refits,” Buchanan said.

LaGrange visited the bridge Wednesday and chatted with a couple of people in various states of intoxication underneath the bridge. He said they were harmless and weren’t doing anything against the law.

“They were reading a book down there, trying to stay warm in the sun.”

He said issuing public intoxication tickets and fines, or taking people into custody, would depend on their level of intoxication and conduct. But it is a strain on the justice system to incarcerate them when they have no way out of the cycle.

“While these people may be making you feel uncomfortable, being in the area is not against the law; talking to yourself isn’t against the law. There’s not a lot of enforcement we can do until something happens.”

He said that’s why the high visibility police presence the downtown patrol is bringing, plus following the principles of crime prevention through environmental design, are important steps toward making people feel safe in that corridor.

The new four-member unit, which started up just a week ago, is out mostly on foot, on mountain bikes and Segways.

He said the bridge is an area of concern because of its use by pedestrians and the proximity of the new overdose prevention site.

“It is going to have that impact, unfortunately.”

LaGrange said there are also many other nooks and crannies, gaps between buildings, in the downtown that are used by people, and officers will be learning about all the hot spots.

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