On Wednesday evening, Airdrie's residents will be able to share their views and offer feedback at the annual Community Town Hall hosted by the Airdrie RCMP and Municipal Enforcement.

The Town Hall will be held at city council chambers, beginning at 6 p.m. and running till 9. For those who are unable to attend a live stream will be available here.

"This is a chance for you to share your feedback regarding safety in our community and help inform our policing priorities for 2024 - 2025. Community feedback matters and will make an important impact on safety," The City stated on its website.

Considering last year's town hall was one of the best attended in recent memory, Cpl. James McConnell of the Airdrie RCMP Community Policing Unit said he is hopeful this year will also be successful.

"[These] town halls are meant for the community to engage with council and with the police; I do hope that we have as many people if not more than what we had last year."

Is traffic safety the most prominent issue in Airdrie?

Cpl. McConnell agreed that traffic may be one of the most prominent concerns residents have, considering that Airdrie continues to grow at one of the fastest paces in the province. The influx of residents naturally means more motorists on the roads.

"We're [in] pretty good shape as a community and that's reflected in the Crime Severity Index (CSI) when we look at Airdrie being a safe place to live," he said. "That's not to downplay or mitigate people's frustrations on traffic. We're lucky enough to have a provincial traffic unit that's run out of our office as well."

Cpl. McConnell added that several programs and officers are dedicated to traffic enforcement.

"I think it's reasonable to expect traffic to be a continued concern when we see the population that we have. In 2023, there were 60,347 vehicles registered in Airdrie - that's three-quarters of our population having a vehicle; so it's no wonder that folks have these issues and concerns."

How do residents perceive safety in Airdrie? 

In early February, the Police Service Model Review Update that was presented to council noted that while Airdrie's Crime Severity Index (CSI) is low in comparison to other municipalities, the perception of residents is that Airdrie is less safe. 

"The percentage of residents that consider Airdrie a safe place to live is declining. [It] dropped from 92 per cent in 2021 to 72 per cent in 2022... Increased to 76 per cent in 2023. Community survey results indicate there are several priorities above community safety but satisfaction with the service has dropped. This is consistent with stakeholder feedback that there are community service gaps residents would like filled and that growing population is putting pressure on existing capacity for services," the report surmised.

There was also mention that, 'data supports stakeholder observations that youth population is growing as well as anecdotal accounts that Airdrie’s schools are experiencing overcrowding and that the City is experiencing an increase in youth loitering and youth crime.'

When asked about the challenges regarding the public's perception of safety versus statistics, Cpl. McConnell said it is a challenging position, but community engagement is key to trying to alleviate the public's concerns.

"I think one of the things that we can do, is to be engaged with the community; that's where things like the upcoming town hall are of benefit for us - to show and answer questions and be able to respond."

Community engagement is also furthered by programs the Airdrie RCMP runs annually, including the bike patrol program which will be starting in a few months.

"The bike patrol program that we ran last year, where we're getting out and talking to people, in circumstances where they wouldn't normally see police, those are the kinds of things where we can have an opportunity to talk through the perception of safety."

Will there be more details on the federal grant to Airdrie?

In January, it was announced that Airdrie would be receiving over $1 million in federal funding to help proactively combat gun and gang violence in the city. During the announcement city officials went to great lengths to underline that Airdrie does not have a youth gang or gun problem and that the funding was meant to fund resources that were proactive and preventative. 

Few details have been released thus far on how the money will be used, however, this week, there is a planned Building Safer Communities Open House, to discuss the topic.

According to the City of Airdrie, the open house is slated for Tuesday, March 19 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Genesis Place, Rotary Room.

"Over the next two years, we'll be engaging with residents and community partners and exploring how to ensure our community remains a safe place for youth. If you're a parent of youth, or you're interested in learning more about what work will be completed as part of this project, we invite you to attend the Building Safer Communities Open House," The City stated.

The open house will tackle subjects such as the ongoing conversations and research taking place with Airdrie youth that will inform the city's work on ensuring youth safety, opportunities for families to be involved in upcoming initiatives, and how residents can inform and help shape the work moving forward. This event is open to all, and there is no registration required to attend. 

Cpl. McConnell said that he doesn't foresee any new information on the initiative will be presented at the RCMP town hall next week.

"Details are scarce because they're [the initiative] still in development. When it comes to the youth population, we're a bedroom community with a ton of young people here. I think we can expect there to not be necessarily issues, but the perception of social disorder," Cpl. McConnell stated. 

He also underlined that it's important to not view the grant funding through the lens that Airdrie's youth are problematic, but instead view the funding as a way to be proactive before potential problems arise.

Will there be more information on body-worn cameras for the RCMP?

A year ago, the province announced that there would be a mandate of body-worn cameras for all police services in the province.

In late November 2023, during a Municipal Policing Advisory Board (MPAB) Inspector Lauren Weare, the Airdrie RCMP Detachment Commander, noted the body-worn camera project that had been implemented for the RCMP had experienced a delay in its roll-out

"There were three detachments in Alberta that ran the pilot and what was discovered, was the actual model and make of the body-worn camera didn't meet the needs that we required. They're moving to a different vendor," she said. "We are going to be now aligned with what the bulk of policing agencies across the country use. It's a little bit of a delay, [but] there won't be any delays once they start rolling them out."

It is not anticipated that any further information will be available at the town hall next week.

Questions surrounding the provincial police force?

Last week the province announced that it would be seeking to introduce the Public Safety Statutes Amendment Act, 2024, which is meant to set up a new organization that would work alongside police services across the province.

"Officers in the new agency would take on responsibility for police-like functions currently carried out by the Alberta Sheriffs," the province stated. "The new agency would be operationally independent from the government, as all Alberta’s police services are now."

However, Mike Ellis, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services, underscored that the amendment is not meant to create a provincial police service in replace of the RCMP.

Even though the announcement has stirred questions among some about whether the province will continue to try and set up a provincial police force, Cpl. McConnell said those questions should be directed to Airdrie's Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs).

"That's entirely their purview," he concluded.

Federal RCMP issues outside of the Airdrie detachment's jurisdiction

Last year's town hall saw many residents asking questions regarding RCMP issues from the federal perspective, which Cpl. McConnell said was outside the scope of jurisdiction for Airdrie's detachment.

"We're a city detachment speaking to the needs of the community, although part of the larger organization, it's challenging for us to speak to federal issues, outside of what's impacting Airdrie," he said.

According to a news release from the City of Airdrie, the focus of the forum is to discuss issues specific to safety and policing in Airdrie. Topics that fall under provincial and federal jurisdictions will not be addressed.

Those who wish to do so can submit questions via email (police.townhall@airdrie.ca) to be answered during the town hall. There will also be an opportunity to ask questions during the town hall.

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