Wednesday evening's RCMP and Municipal Enforcement Town Hall that was held in City Council chambers saw an extensive turn-out in-person. According to the city's Mayor, Peter Brown, it was one of the best-attended town halls in his tenure as Mayor.
The City had previously underlined that the Town Hall was meant to provide a forum for Airdrie residents to provide local RCMP policing feedback, and while there were questions with regards to local issues, including speeding and road safety, as well as how mental health resources are deployed by police, there was also a large portion of questions that related both directly and indirectly to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as how bylaw and police dealt with COVID-19 issues.
Although residents were reminded repeatedly that provincial and Federal policing initiatives must be addressed at higher levels of government and are not applicable at the municipal level, there was still a substantial debate over said issues.
Airdrie RCMP priorities, crime statistics & short-term challenges
In her briefing, Inspector Lauren Weare, the Airdrie RCMP Detachment Commander said that the current annual performance plan priorities that were identified for the 2021 and 2022 years were centred on crime reduction, community engagement, and road safety. According to Insp. Weare's presentation, crime reduction in Airdrie is based on six pillars, which include an intelligence-led policing model which is done through analytics to identify those who are actively engaged in criminal activities.
She added that the Crime Reduction Unit's focus has project-specific activities to address emerging crimes, while the Mental Health & Addictions Liaison Team works with AHS to identify and supports high-risk clients & clients in need.
According to the statistics presented in the Town Hall, while persons and property crimes did increase in 2021-2022, there has been an overall decrease in overall crime in Airdrie.
Insp. Weare said that the 'bell-curve' trend that she foresees in Airdrie is similar to other trends across the country, as the public has begun to phase into a normal way of life after the COVID-19 pandemic. She underlined that one of the short-term challenges the RCMP is facing is a sharp rise in sex-related offences, especially among youth. She added that this is being addressed by bolstering resources within community policing.
"This is why we are pivoting and wanting to increase the resources in Corporal McConnell's shop; he has three resources and this is why we look at where we can best support his unit. We are able to lean in a little bit so that we are not waiting until in a perfect, world, that we are engaging youth at the right time... with high-risk youth that hasn't hit the threshold for criminality."
Insp. Weare added that while there is an increase in sex-related crimes, the crime severity index in Airdrie remains low, especially when compared to the rural-provincial areas surrounding Airdrie.
"Right now, a lot of our crimes are influenced by our proximity to the Calgary urban area and that's why we are an intelligence-led organization. Folks who commit crimes in the rural area, also commit crimes in Airdrie. There is a domino effect."
The issue of 'boots on the ground' was posed by a resident who asked considering that Airdrie's population is growing by leaps and bounds, whether there will be more resources deployed to keep up with the population growth.
Airdrie’s Director of Community Growth and Protective Services, Kevin Weinberger, explained that one of the reasons the RCMP's request for three more members during budget deliberations was not approved was because there is a downward trend in overall crime.
Insp. Weare admitted she was slightly disappointed by the request not going through, but added that she would continue to lobby for the positions during next year's budget deliberations.
However, the Airdrie resident concluded that it would be perhaps wiser to get in front of the population growth issue, rather than behind it.
"The downward trend in criminality was essentially because of the pandemic. That's over. Why don't you take the horse by the reins?"
Road Safety & Speeding
According to both the RCMP and Municipal Enforcement, speeding inside city limits continues to be an issue that law enforcement is dealing with.
Several residents also asked about the issue of speeding during the Town Hall. One resident mentioned that the community of Bay View sees many speeders. According to Brian Rayner the Team Leader, of Airdrie Municipal Enforcement, there has been an increase in enforcement in the area.
"We do have a better indicator of when the speeding occurs and hopefully we can target that a little bit better. One things that we've also done is, we've moved one of our officers from general duties into traffic safety and that'll be part of his portfolio to identify these hotspots and target them."
Staff Sgt. Troy Switzer, the Operations NCO with the Airdrie RCMP said that there is also a fine line that both RCMP and Municipal Enforcement are trying to balance, considering this is a polarizing issue, where one side of the public believes not enough is being done about speeding, while the other side believes there is too much enforcement.
"If we were targeting everybody doing 32 kilometres [in a 30 zone], then we'd never get out to do the rest of our job, but what we have done is we have listened to council and the citizens and we have enhanced policing," he said. "We have the Safe City Roads Program, in which we bring in enhanced officers to supplement the people working every day and they go out and they specifically target traffic."
Although crime has decreased in Airdrie, statistics do show that there has been an overall increase in the past five years when it comes to mental health-related calls. In a previous meeting of the Municipal Policing Advisory Board Meeting last month, mental health occurrences have decreased by 15 per cent in 2022 as compared to 2021, however, the five-year trend does show an over-arching increase.
One resident asked how exactly are mental health resources deployed to address the issue, citing a concern that there seemed to be a cut-back in resources.
However, Insp. Weare explained that resources have been reallocated in order to best serve the needs of the community. Acting Superintendent, for the Southern Alberta District Office, Rick Janè explained that because oftentimes because those who struggle with mental health can also have issues with domestic violence, it is best that the teams work together to address the issue, hence the resources being pooled together.
"This is a much more strategic and responsible way to use the resources we have available. It's important that people understand that The Mental Health & Addictions Liaison Team's primary duties have not changed," he said. "They will continue to triage clients. They provide phone consults or home visits to ensure proper support and they create plans to manage risk and improve outcomes for their clients. The AHS mental health clinicians' hours have not been reduced; she still provides 24 hours per week to our Domestic Violence Unit/ Mental Health Unit."
Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms, Public Health Act & COVID-19 related issues
A large majority of questions during the Town Hall harkened back to the issues of the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms, as well as concerns over how law enforcement dealt with COVID-19-related issues, including the Public Health Act. However, both the RCMP, Municipal Enforcement and the city's representatives including the Mayor stressed that the forum was not meant to address such issues.
Uncertainty of a Provincial Police Force
One question posed by a resident was whether there has been any planning with regard to the potential of a provincial police force being phased in the province and how that could potentially impact the Airdrie RCMP. Mayor Brown said that no clear answer has been given by provincial officials.
"On behalf of myself and the council, we're very satisfied with the RCMP and the work they do every day to keep our community safe, and putting their lives at risk every time they go out. We are definitely supportive of the RCMP. I thought it was going to be mandated to municipalities. I don't feel that way right now," Mayor Brown said.
Director Weinberger also echoed the Mayor in saying that there is no clear path or answer as of yet.
"We continue to ask the question of what's happening; is there a transition plan? [There are] no answers. So, it's a wait-and-see game."
According to the city, the feedback provided by residents will be passed on to the Municipal Policing Advisory Board and will help set policing priorities for the coming year.
Send your news tips, story ideas, pictures, and videos to email@example.com