Despite the looming changes to how Ponoka County will be charged for policing services, council approved renewing its agreement to fund two enhanced positions at the Ponoka RCMP detachment.
The unanimous vote came at council’s Dec. 10 meeting, where Ponoka’s Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley was on hand to present the police services’ quarterly report for the county.
After hearing from CAO Charlie Cutforth that the recent provincial government announcement provided details that the county will receive credit for their payments to the enhanced positions, meaning the county’s four-year policing costs will only increase by about $200,000 as opposed to almost $500,000 without it.
Coun. Mark Matejka did question whether the two positions have benefited or generated some value for the county and Smiley put forth an emphatic yes.
“Having these two enhanced positions available one year ago absolutely saved us when our detachment was at 50 per cent of our staffing levels,” he told council.
“We were able to make adjustments to those extra enhanced positions, putting them on regular shifts and that helped keep us afloat. And without these positions, we would not have a School Resource Officer. I’ve been in many meetings with the school division and they want that to keep going no matter what.”
Smiley also informed council that overall crime statistics are down within the detachment’s coverage area in the county.
For the period from Jan. 1 to Nov. 30, overall criminal code offences fell by 22 per cent when compared to the same time frame in 2018.
“Crimes are down across the board,” he said.
“Although one category — “other” criminal code — has increased 69 per cent. However, there are a couple of different things this covers: court order breaches and failure to comply or appear. A lot of this relates to our officers aggressively targeting those prolific offenders and monitoring their release conditions.
“Overall, the numbers are really good and really reflect the trend across K Division.”
The spike comes specifically in the failure to comply and breaches category, up a whopping 163 per cent — 71 so far this year compared to last year’s 27. There is also a jump in disturbing the peace calls, up to 14 from eight.
And those particular statistics are due, in part, to the revolving door of the justice system as it is getting increasingly difficult to have repeat criminals held in custody.
“We see the same people over and over, but it is has proven difficult to have people held,” said Smiley.
Federal legislative changes, made through Bill C-75, takes affect on Dec. 18 and will make attempts to get suspects remanded even tougher.
“It’s going to get even more challenging as the bill lays out a progressive series of steps before an accused is held in custody, with bail being the default unless there are exceptional circumstances,” he said.
“It starts out with the least intrusive conditions to bail for offenders and then works its way up. Also in the bill is determining the conditions an accused can abide by, meaning if alcohol is typically a problem there would normally be no alcohol condition. But now, if an accused says they can abstain, that won’t be a condition of their release.”
Reeve Paul McLauchlin lauded the efforts of the local RCMP, while tossing a jab at how justice is being administered.
“It looks to me that the biggest concern isn’t the hard work that police are doing, but it really is tied back to the courts and some of the federal legislation that is changing how we treat criminals,” he said.
Meanwhile, total property crimes reported over the past 11 months hit 199 compared to 339 last year, a drop of 41 per cent.
This includes 36 fewer thefts under $5,000 (down 48 per cent), six fewer vehicle thefts (decrease of 17 per cent, 12 less break and enters (down 20 per cent) and 59 fewer mischief to property (drop of 65 per cent).
Crimes against people in the county are down slightly, about five per cent.
These include a decrease from 10 to five instances of uttering threats, a drop to one from four robbery incidents, but an increase in harassment incidents (from five to nine) and assaults (up to 25 from 23).
Reports of suspicious vehicles and people is also down slightly at 52 versus 65 last year.
In addition, vehicle collisions are also down 25 per cent from 2018 (255 compared to 341) with injury collisions down to 21 from 31. However, fatal collisions sit at six, up from five.