Peace River RCMP Community Advisory Committee held a town hall meeting on April 15 to address issues that have been happening in the community. Left-right are Northern Sunrise County Reeve Corinna Williams, Const. Mitch Guenette, S/Sgt. Dave Brown, Town of Peace River Councillor Marc Boychuk, K-Division’s Jennifer Key, K-Division’s Chad Yonk, Town of Peace River CAO Barb Miller, and Town of Peace River Deputy Mayor Orren Ford.Emily Plihal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Peace River RCMP Community Advisory Committee held a town hall meeting April 15 at the Peace Valley Inn Emerald Room so local businesses could discuss crime that’s been plaguing the municipality recently.

The committee included presentations from local RCMP, the Rural Crime Watch, Peace River Mental Health and Addictions Task Force, and the Town of Peace River. The hope was that business owners could help to brainstorm ideas on how to address vandalism, theft, and other robberies that have been taking place in Peace River in recent years.

Peace River MLA Dan Williams called in at the beginning of the meeting to acknowledge the Province understands the issues in the area and is willing to help find solutions to the issues.

“It might be helpful to look into extra policing services to support the great work that is being done,” says Williams over a phone call to the crowd.

“Peace River is probably one of the best examples in the province of seeing the escalation (in crime), so we need to make sure we’re taking seriously the fact that public safety is a priority in our community.

“We’re trying the best we can to deal with problems so people can run businesses, live their lives, and raise families in a safe community.”

Peace River RCMP S/Sgt. Dave Brown discussed concepts the local detachment is trying to introduce and implement in the community to help address issues. He acknowledged the increase in crime that they are trying to address, some of which are beyond the realm of RCMP responsibilities and the Community Advisory Committee is working closely with RCMP to try to address those concerns.

“Let me first discuss enforcement challenges, when a person walks down a street in their community and don’t feel safe, and maybe they encounter someone who is dealing with complex issues, the first feeling they have is one of safety,” says Brown.

“The natural deduction from that is whose responsibility is it to keep us safe, and the obvious answer is the RCMP,” he adds.

Brown says some of the difficulties include having a situation where they’re able to lay criminal charges, but those charges require the victim to be a willing participant in the process. Many people do not want to be involved with a long-term court case, and unfortunately choose to not lay charges.

“Some of our residents are dealing with mental health issues, homelessness issues, or addictions issues, making the situation more challenging,” says Brown, who adds that depending on the day these types of issues account for 65-70 per-cent of the calls they respond to.

“We’ll get calls from the public regarding a person who is acting erratically, or loitering in front of a business, at that point we will assess if there’s a criminal offence occurring. If not we will try to connect them with community supports to help them, but there’s a limit to what we can do at that point.”

Unfortunately, a number of the clients the RCMP are helping with the above addressed issues may not have the capability of following up with the recommended community supports they’ve been connected to. Brown acknowledged the Sagitawa Society that helps extensively provide supports to these individuals both in shelter capacity and the programs they offer to help individuals who are in crisis.

Peace River Mental Health and Addictions Task Force’s Marc Boychuk addressed some of the links to Peace River’s homelessness and things that can be done to address mental health issues and addictions in the community to help curb crime.

“We found out (through data collection) that Peace River had more people sleeping out in parks and streets than the other 21 communities in Alberta that ran the estimation at the same time,” says Boychuk, noting that this was part of the reasoning behind trying to open a shelter in Peace River.

Boychuk noted a lot of the petty crime that occurs in the community can be addressed if we advocate for more support service funding from the Province to provide more housing and addiction treatment for those who need it.

He adds if we can help address homelessness and help people find permanent shelter, they won’t feel it necessary to find any way to get the basic needs they require. In addition, if homeless have homes they will also reduce the number of distressful situations they experience, lowering crime which will help reduce the number of calls to the RCMP.

“We have many patients being released from our hospital into homelessness,” Boychuk says. “We have mental health issues, our prisons, and residential schools, all reasons of why people are experiencing homelessness in Peace River.”

To address the vandalism and theft in businesses, the group welcomed two members of the RCMP’s K-Division, Jennifer Key and Chad Yonk. They addressed the CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) program the Town of Peace River recently became part of to help address the high levels of crime in the community.

The program focuses on things business owners and residents can do to make their properties less attractive to thefts. These things can include keeping shrubbery and trees trimmed to keep sightlines to the property clear, blocking off spaces between two buildings with fences, adding LED lighting and cameras to various areas around the building, and keeping windows free of posters and other items.

More information on CPTED can be found online via various sources, including the RCMP website.

People attending voiced their concerns including that there are no concrete plans to address the theft in the community, that there’s even situations with “strung-out” people at the local library, and that some business owners are terrified of going to their dumpsters because they’re being accosted by individuals when they’re trying to close up at night.

Town of Peace River will have a bylaw officer starting again on May 1, hoping that having extra presence in the community at more times during the day will help address the vandalism and theft in the downtown core.

Brown also indicated they’ve been looking at various new programs, including adding bikes to their fleet to be in the downtown core patrolling more frequently.

This will be an ongoing communication between the community and local RCMP, town council and other organizations in upcoming months.

By Emily Plihal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 01, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   South Peace News   High Prairie, Alberta

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