Good news on the crime-fighting front doesn’t mean Red Deer citizens should be less vigilant.
If anything, word that new policing initiatives are paying dividends should inspire even greater commitment to peaceful neighbourhoods.
Red Deer City RCMP Supt. Brian Simpson told a town hall meeting this week that the number of calls to police has dropped dramatically this year, to 750 a week from 1,250 a week last year. He attributes the decline to a zoning policing model that was introduced more than a year ago, increased officers on the streets and a young police force that is gaining experience.
The zoning model makes good sense: the city is divided into eight regions and officers are generally assigned to a zone for six months to gain familiarity with its problems, problem areas and problem people. Officers can respond quicker to calls and often head off issues before they escalate.
Certainly, city council has heard and responded to public calls to crack down on crime: this year, seven new officers will be added to the force and about $15 million will be spent on policing.
But those good efforts are not nearly enough, and not because of the money spent or the manpower devoted to the task.
The Institute for the Prevention of Crime, a University of Ottawa-based think tank, warns that increased criminal activity can follow on the heels of an economic downturn. We can expect increased property crimes, particularly as desperate people seek quick financial relief (break-ins jumped to 20 last week in Red Deer, from 13 the previous week).
Last week, a revived Citizens on Patrol began training about 30 people. Volunteers, working in pairs, patrol the city and alert police of any issues. It’s a good program that mines a core of goodness we should all look for. Because, ultimately, peaceful neighbourhoods depend on a commitment to personal vigilance by all of us.
In addition, city council has established a Crime Prevention Advisory Committee, in response to public concerns after the old police commission was disbanded. The first chair of the new committee, TerryLee Ropchan, is the president of Neighbourhood Watch in Red Deer. It’s another good sign that policing is a shared responsibility.
The Institute for the Prevention of Crime has a list of recommendations to reduce crime without increasing taxes. It talks at length about engaging the public in the process and about establishing strong local leadership in order to make our communities safe.
It is clear that Red Deer is getting that kind of leadership from the top.
Now the public must become similarly engaged in the war on crime.
If you’re not convinced that we’re all responsible, turn a blind eye to crime in your community and see how fast it escalates. Stay vigilant.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.