City of Red Deer RCMP Cpl. Sarah Knelsen holds packages of marijuana and ecstasy with other examples of drugs and weapons seized as evidence in Red Deer.

City of Red Deer RCMP Cpl. Sarah Knelsen holds packages of marijuana and ecstasy with other examples of drugs and weapons seized as evidence in Red Deer.

RCMP eager to build on successes of 2014

On any given day, Red Deer City RCMP will receive more than 130 calls for service.

On any given day, Red Deer City RCMP will receive more than 130 calls for service.

The calls range from crimes against persons, such as assault or robbery, to less serious ones like requests for assistance.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Red Deer has a growing crime rate.

“While we’re a big detachment, it’s overall a safe community,” said Red Deer RCMP Insp. Scott Tod, who took charge of the detachment in May.

“Like most communities, we have a small percentage of the people causing us the large percentage of the work.”

Tod said the community and City Hall have been very supportive of the RCMP’s efforts to make Red Deer an even safer place.

Still, Tod will ask for a “modest increase” to staffing during the 2015 operating budget deliberations next week. The policing budget for 2014 was set at roughly $30.8 million.

Four police officers and an additional ALERT member were approved as part of the last budget and 147 officers now work for the Red Deer detachment. Another 12 or so Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) officers share space in the detachment. The integrated policing unit tackles serious crime covering drug trafficking and gang activity and in Central Alberta set up shop in Red Deer last year.

The province funds ALERT teams and other specialized integrated policing units in Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Medicine Hat, and Lethbridge. Lately, there has been some concern that funding will be cut because of the drop in oil prices and the impact on the economy.

Mike Tucker, ALERT spokesperson, said he cannot comment on any potential cuts to funding.

“We are just focusing on the day-to-day,” he said. “There’s a lot of work to do in this province to tackle organized crime.”

ALERT has secure funding for the next year.

Tucker said the team has had some recent successes in Red Deer, including the shutting down of an alleged crack cocaine lab in a Lancaster home where two young children lived in November, and the recovery of a large cache of drugs, jewels and weapons, including a 50-metre calibre rife, in November from homes in Red Deer and Bentley.

“We’re going out of the year on a high,” said Tucker. “I think they are making progress for sure.”

A $1-million expense to ease the space crunch at the downtown RCMP building, to develop the second level, was approved by city council in November. The level was only half finished when the 86,000-square-foot, two-storey building opened in the fall of 2010.

Looking ahead to 2015, the police have a few new initiatives in the fight against crime.

Improving the dispatching service is one of the priorities. Tod said the detachment will bring some of its dispatching duties inhouse as opposed to using the current call centre. He said the police are looking at taking complaint calls during the peak periods during the day. He said this will streamline the complaints process so the less serious ones are directed to the appropriate resources, which may not necessarily be police officers.

Some of the plain clothes officer units will be realigned to target property crimes and prolific offenders.

And making the city streets safer for everyone is part of a traffic plan that is on both City Hall and police’s radar.

TerryLee Ropchan, the executive director of the Central Alberta Crime Prevention Centre, said 2014 was a building year for the two-year-old agency.

She said she cannot say definitively the centre’s programs and organizations have yet made a huge impact on reducing crime in the city.

But she said the centre had 2,766 personal interactions with residents through workshops, neighbourhood programs, special events and community projects.

“We definitely started to make some headway,” said Ropchan. “I can’t say we hugely impacted crime within our city this year but we have really started to build ourselves in that direction.”

She said the centre has increased its use of social media and its online presence, which has allowed it to get its messages out and reach more people.

“We are so positive now about the plans that we have to be able to interact with everybody and to really get people involved,” said Ropchan. “We are looking to really engage the community and get residents involved in making their neighbourhoods safer and making the community safe in general.”

Three full-time staff and more than 90 volunteers work out of the centre. In 2014, it moved to a larger space, allowing for more programs, presentations, workshops and events. The centre also solidified its first three-year strategic plan, outlining goals and strategies for 2015, 2016 and 2017.

Ongoing funding for the centre will be considered during the 2015 operating budget talks. City council had approved one-time funding of $19,530 in 2012 and $29,000 in 2013 to offset costs.

City council also gave the green light to an ad hoc community safety committee in late 2014 that will “engage the community in the development of safety initiatives that have a community wide context and positive influence.”

Ropchan said the centre will be a resource for the committee as it conducts a community conversation around all the pieces of safety, including education and enforcement.

Seven to 11 members are expected to be named to the committee at a meeting in early January.

Among its duties, the ad hoc committee will develop a funding model and distribution process for community safety projects. It will also develop the criteria funding opportunities for projects that align with the city’s vision and goals.

While the full crime stats for 2014 have not been released, overall property crimes such as fraud and arson rose by 8.3 per cent in the first nine months of the year.

The biggest jump, however, was for possession of stolen goods, a category that increased by 66 per cent. There had been 517 offences through September, compared to 311 in 2013. A large increase in possession of stolen goods offences is often a result of enforcement.

Vehicle theft incidents also jumped by 31 per cent with 748 offences in the period, up from 571 in 2013.

Conversely, the total crimes against persons fell by 3.3 per cent in the first nine months of the year. Through the first three quarters of the year, there had been 2,337 such crimes, compared to 2,417 in 2013.

All other Criminal Code offences such weapons charges and disturbing the peace fell by 9.3 per cent. There were 4,082 such instances in total, compared to 4,500 offences in 2013.

Tod became the city’s top cop in May after Supt. Warren Dosko resigned in a surprise move in December 2013. Insp. David Elliott filled in until a permanent commander was named.

Tod, who came from Wetaskiwin, said he had a bit of a learning curve when he arrived given the size of the detachment and the number of officers.

He said he took the time to find out what the city’s priorities were and to align them with the policing strategy.

Now that his learning curve is over, Tod said he is ready to get down to business in 2015.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com