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Lacombe police officers facing more armed offenders

Increase in weapons charges reflects province-wide trend

While most Lacombe crime and traffic offences appear to be returning to pre-pandemic levels, weapons crimes are following a worrying trend.

There were 34 weapons offences last year, up 209 per cent from 11 in 2021, according to Lacombe Police Service 2022 statistics. The five-year average is 22 offences a year.

Lacombe Police Chief Lorne Blumhagen said analyzing crime statistics and trying to draw conclusions or pinpoint trends in recent years is difficult because the pandemic had such a dramatic impact on almost every facet of society, including crime levels.

However, the rising prevalence of weapons reflects a wider trend.

“That’s very consistent province-wide and we are definitely seeing firearms on a regular basis and that trend seems to continue,” he said. “In days gone by, that would be more of a rarity, but now is occurring, definitely, on a more frequent basis.”

A little over five months into this year, officers are still routinely coming across weapons.

“The trend hasn’t seemed to have changed this year.”

It has been a topic of concern for the Alberta Chiefs of Police Association, who have discussed rising weapons possession with provincial justice officials along with other issues, such as bail reform, especially for prolific offenders.

In most statistical crime categories, Lacombe’s numbers are roughly in line with the previous year and especially five-year averages.

The number of calls for service fell just under four per cent from the previous year to 5,732, an average of nearly 90 a day for the 23-officer force.

Assaults were down 29 per cent to 55 from 78 last year. That was also well below the five-year average of 72.

There were 19 sexual offences, same as the previous year and matching the five-year average. There were two robberies, same as the previous year and equal to the five-year average.

Harassment crimes were down 22 per cent to 29 from 37 in 2021 and down 34 per cent from the five-year average of 44. Drug crimes were up 24 per cent to 42 from 34 in 2021. The 2022 number is almost in line with the five-year average of 44.

Impaired driving was up 40 per cent to 28 offences from 20 in 2021. The five-year average is 44 offences.

For property offences, theft under $5,000 was down 21 per cent to 105 from 132, which was in line with the five-year average of 133. There were 37 break and enters last year, up from 31 a year earlier but down from the five-year average of 39. However, possession of stolen property offences nearly doubled to 27 from 14, but roughly in line with the five-year average of 28.

Lacombe’s Crime Severity Index suggests the community is on the right track.

In 2021, the last year the CSI is available, Lacombe’s improved to 51.4 down from 60.5 in 2020. Both numbers are well below the Canadian average of 73.7. Out of 326 police services CSIs, Lacombe ranked 193rd.

To come up with a CSI number each serious offence is assigned a weight, derived from average sentences handed down by criminal courts. The more serious the average sentence, the higher the weight for that offence.

Blumhagen said based on last year’s crime numbers he suspects Lacombe will be in the same range when 2022 CSI rankings come out later this year.

Traffic violations have plummeted in Lacombe in recent years, according to Lacombe Police Service 2022 statistics.

However, the need to use statistics cautiously is shown in the traffic violation numbers. Last year, they plummeted to 1,268 traffic violations, compared with 2,071 in 2021. The number of moving violations was also down dramatically — 622 last year, compared with 1,274 a year earlier.

The numbers are somewhat skewed because they caught the tail end of the pandemic, which saw the last Alberta restrictions lifted March 1 2022. As well there were staff shortages for a time that meant there were fewer officers available to hand out tickets, said Blumhagen.

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