A relatively strong police presence at the Ponoka Stampede ensured people were safe, however, there were several incidents to cause some concern.
During the busy week, Ponoka RCMP received 333 calls for service, up from 297 in 2017, with a few incidents of a more serious nature. Among those were two aggravated assault files where three victims were stabbed, one in town and one on the Stampede grounds. These more severe incidents were related to individuals who are known to police and who knew each other, explained Ponoka RCMP acting Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley. The victims are reported to be recovering from their injuries and charges have been laid.
“We had a robust week, but overall the Stampede was a fun, safe experience for visitors,” he said, pointing out that the incidents were subject to a small percentage of people.
There was some discussion among town council during budget deliberations to reduce the overtime hours cost of RCMP personnel – the town and Ponoka Stampede Association split the overtime costs during the week – and while it took some convincing, Smiley said the town worked closely with the detachment to ensure their staffing needs were met.
“We have our operations plans down to a science,” said Smiley of the personnel needs during the week.
“And if we had two extra bodies per shift, we would have had a use for them.”
Among the other calls for service, RCMP dealt with nine assault files with one being against a parking volunteer who received a minor assault from an individual who didn’t like where he was being told to park. There was also an assault to a beer gardens security woman who was punched by a man. One person was charged with assault after spitting in a police officer’s face during an arrest.
“I don’t want that to take away from the prestige of the event,” said Smiley.
When asked if alcohol was a reason for the calls for service, Smiley confirmed that in most cases the issues were indeed alcohol related. “We have a front row seat to that.”
There were some differences to this year over last; 2018 saw 64 prisoners during the week, a drop from 117 in 2017 mainly due to less people being overly intoxicated and being taken to the detachment.
Smiley says last year there was a group of six or seven individuals who would become so intoxicated they would be arrested and taken to the detachment, they would then sober up and leave the detachment, only to return a few hours later intoxicated. It took some figuring out how they were becoming intoxicated, but it is believed they were drinking hand sanitizer from portable toilets.
“I feel like our proactive presence certainly deterred criminal activity,” said Smiley.
Among the areas where police received positive feedback was in traffic and crosswalk control with people praising police for their support, said Smiley. At one point a young boy said to Smiley that being a police officer is what he’d like to do when he grows up. It gave him a sense of confirmation that RCMP are doing the right thing.
Smiley says the RCMP’s priority is the safety of residents and attendees of the Ponoka Stampede. Another important factor for Smiley is the health and safety of his staff, which is one of the other reasons he advocates for a proper amount of staffing. Smiley says staff can become burned out if they do not have enough support.
Other calls for service during the week included three possession of a weapon charges for a dangerous purpose. Among those calls related to a few campers having firearms but not having the proper possession licence. There was one attempted robbery, an assault with a weapon charge (related to having a knife), nine impaired drivers, six 72-hour graduated driver’s licence suspensions (alcohol related), three break and enter files, three uttering threats charges, 15 thefts – one of which was theft over $5,000 of a solar panel and batteries – 41 causing a disturbance and there were 117 tickets issued.
Smiley pointed out that with any large event such as the Ponoka Stampede there is going to be an increase in criminal activity, but he suggests the majority of attendees were there to enjoy the experience.