Statistics don’t always show the whole picture, but falling crime stats in Ponoka County are a positive indicator.
That was one of the messages that Ponoka RCMP Sgt. Chris Smiley brought to the county council meeting Nov. 13 during his quarterly update.
“That’s the thing about statistics, they can tell us a lot and every now and then they can tell us the truth too,” Smiley stated, drawing some chuckles from council.
He pointed out that several charges — including criminal harassment, uttering threats, kidnapping — can all stem from just one type of call and generate multiple counts.
“Criminal harassment, uttering threats and assault have all gone down and most of those have a domestic violence aspect to them. Some of those types of files involve serious abuse, but not every one of those cases is and that’s important to point out,” Smiley stated.
“Last year, the big ones were theft of vehicles plus break and enters, both of which are down this year. However, overall there is an increase in property crime charges, but it’s a sign of a nice trend though.”
Overall, criminal charges laid in the county from January to the end of September remain fairly constant — down seven to 345. Meanwhile, the number of traffic offences has nearly quadrupled over the same period in 2017 — with 4,647 tickets issued versus 1,222 last year. Not all of these were issued by RCMP, but includes statistics from the Ponoka Integrated Traffic Unit that patrol area highways.
Ponoka RCMP are making use of several initiatives that may be helping keep crime moving downward.
The first is keeping better tabs on individuals on court-ordered release conditions through a monitoring program.
“Following the hard work done to arrest and charge someone, some are then released pending court or are out of jail on probation. There are several being monitored locally, in town and the county, but it only works if the conditions are enforceable, with a curfew being the best,” Smiley stated.
“Some are towing the line and we work closely with probation to ensure we have the up to date conditions. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but we have to pre-plan. Has it had any impact on the repeat offenders? I believe it does.”
Two other more recent programs will hopefully assist officers in catching offenders and preventing crime.
“(A new crime mapping feature) is an interesting tool, allowing us to see what is going on and where. We use it proactively. It helps us pick areas for traffic enforcement where there have been some break-ins or vehicles stolen,” he said.
“It is also important for the public, letting them know if incidents are close to them, enabling them to watch out and take precautions.”
The other initiative — announced just last week — is a system where other staff can handle complaints and also take reports from officers in the field, saving time and keeping officers out on patrol instead of filling out paperwork.
Presently, Ponoka is short four members due to extended sick leave and unfilled transfers and, while they are making due for now, Smiley would really like to just get the correct number of officers allotted to the detachment.
“We can’t talk about getting more, I just want what’s been promised us. (The RCMP) is short all over and part of it is lower recruiting numbers, but what is unique here is that it all happened at once,” he explained.
One recruit just arrived and that helps a bit, but it will be some time before the officer will be able to patrol on their own, so it still leaves Ponoka short.
“We have both GIS positions filled now and everyone is filling in on doing other work, but with the staffing where it is at combined with other priorities, certain items such as proactive traffic enforcement will be put on the back-burner.”
There is possible hope on the horizon, as some experienced members from other provinces have shown interest in coming back to Alberta and Smiley is optimistic Ponoka may get at least one sent their way.