More to crime reduction than proposed booze bylaw

“There are three kinds of lies,” British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli famously observed. “Lies, damned lies and statistics.

“There are three kinds of lies,” British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli famously observed. “Lies, damned lies and statistics.

Add crime stats to the list.

The sensational — if not disingenuous — statement that Ponoka is the Impaired Driving Capital of Canada certainly got everyone’s attention at the Coffee with Council meeting last week.

RCMP Staff Sgt. Cameron Chisholm produced statistics to show Ponoka’s impaired driving rate would be 1,181 per 100,000 people. StatsCan says there were 450 police-reported impaired driving incidents per 100,000 in Alberta. The national figure is 262 per 100,000.

Volume refers to the total number of impaired driving charges laid in Ponoka; the crime rate refers to the number of crimes per 100,000 people.

There were actually 91 arrests for drunk driving in Ponoka in 2011; 109 in 2012.

What’s surprising in those statistics is that on average, there are only two impaired driving arrests per week in Ponoka. Processing an average of two impaired drivers each a weekend creates $8,767 in direct overtime?

This is an epidemic?

No, it’s fear mongering.

It’s bad science to compare a densely populated, tourist destination to a small farm service centre next to three Indian reserves. Why not compare Ponoka’s actual impaired driving stats with those of similar communities that share demographics and economic circumstances? How about Strathmore with Gleichen next door? Or Spruce Grove with Enoch? Or Rocky Mountain House with Sunchild/O’Chiese?

Council is targeting non-resident shoppers who drive to Ponoka to buy late-night booze. Last year, only 19 Ponoka residents were charged with impaired driving — the rest (40) were from out of town, the majority from within 40 kilometres of Ponoka. There is no moat around Hobbema: problems there will surely seep into those same neighbouring communities that also benefit from native purchasing power, and the enrichment their culture adds to the community.

Interesting that council has no qualms about spending a share of the $25,000 it costs to police drunken cowboys at the Ponoka Stampede for a week but it doesn’t want to spend a fraction of that amount to deal with drunken Indians.

Mounties say they don’t know how drunken late-night shoppers are making it out of Hobbema and into Ponoka where they are occasionally arrested and charged. The drunks are driving out, right under their noses. It’s a dry reserve. Anyone with booze on their breath is breaking at least a band bylaw. Apparently impaired driving is not a priority of the Hobbema RCMP.

If RCMP really want to stop drunk drivers from entering Ponoka, set up Check Stops on Highway 2A north of town. And if they slip through the net, police and AGLC inspectors must stop turning a blind eye to over-serving in bars and lay charges or suspend liquor licences.

Town councillors don’t have to appear tough on crime to get re-elected — they need to be honest with crime statistics and smarter about fighting crime. Council’s desire for the liquor sales bylaw arose from the notion that alcohol is the root of Ponoka’s evils and limiting access to late night sales would miraculously create a safer community. It then morphed into the need to reduce RCMP overtime (which is already built into the municipal budget) and then it focused on Ponoka’s “outrageous” impaired driving statistics.

In support of its kneejerk decision to impose restrictions on the sale of alcohol, council must establish and implement a safe communities strategy and work with the business community, FCSS, the RCMP, courts, schools, mental health agencies and Indian reserves.

There is no doubt crime has an effect on the quality of life in Ponoka. Abuse of alcohol has an effect on the quality of life in Ponoka. The solution will not be found solely on the backs of honest businesspeople selling a legal product within the hours approved by the provincial government.

If we are to get serious about reducing crime in Ponoka, everyone must make crime reduction a priority.