The rising crime rate was the topic of town Jan. 8, with Town of Athabasca councillors discussing the issue at their council meeting and 31 people packing the Athabasca Seniors’ Centre Lions Den for an Athabasca Citizens On Patrol (COP) meeting later that evening.
Members of COPs made a presentation to town council to talk about their concerns about rising crime rates.
At that meeting, COPs vice-president Gordon MacComb told councillors that the rate of crime, thefts, graffiti and drugs has reached epic proportions.
“People cannot leave their house or property without locking up everything of value because of the thefts of anything that can be sold for quick money to buy whatever,” MacComb said. “There are drug deals going on day and night.”
He added customers are getting uneasy shopping downtown due to methamphetamine users wandering around high.
“Many businesses are locking their doors in the afternoon due to shady looking people walking around town,” MacComb said.
He said COPs is looking to have cameras installed within the community.
“If allowed, they would only be accessed by the RCMP,” he continued. “It would be an extra set of eyes for them for surveillance only. The RCMP are spread out too thin to be everywhere and spend more time swamped in paperwork.”
MacComb also said he wondered if the Town of Athabasca peace officer is able to do more patrolling downtown, as well as at the Grand Union Hotel, Riverfront Park and at the alleged drug houses.
“As a peace officer, he has the right to patrol for drugs,” town chief administrative officer Robert Jorgensen said. “He can bring in the RCMP if he needs to. His hours can be in the evenings or weekends, so we can possibly get him out there more often. He can’t do criminal investigations, but he can do inspections.”
COPs volunteer Regina Shaw, who was at the presentation with MacComb, said interest in COPs has grown as crime continues to rise.
“We had 19 people at our last meeting in December,” Shaw said. “Before, we were only able to get eight on average. Now we are getting an explosion of people who want to join.”
Town Mayor Colleen Powell added after the presentation she would like to know more about what happened at the Jan. 8 meeting.
Coun. John Traynor made a motion for a request for discussion to talk about rural crime at their special meeting with Athabasca County Jan. 9. The motion was carried unanimously.
Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette was at the COPs meeting at the Lions Den, along with Athabasca County Reeve Larry Armfelt and members of the Athabasca RCMP.
Piquette said it was concerning to hear of the latest update of crimes being committed in the area.
“It’s good that the crime rate has dropped in Calling Lake,” Piquette said. “But there is definitely work to do on this issue within the rest of the county.”
He said the one positive part is that there are lots of people coming together in order to tackle this issue.
“They are looking for a constructive approach to the problem, and I am happy to work with them to see if I can help,” he said.
Newly-elected Athabasca COPs president Rod Kerr said it was great to hear all the input from the RCMP, Piquette and Armfelt.
“There are a lot of people concerned,” Kerr said. “A lot of people came out, and we are going to set up patrols, as well as a central databank, and we are going to push hard to get cameras in the town.”
He said there have been break-ins happening across the town and county in the last two or three weeks.
“I can’t put an exact figure on that,” Kerr said. “People are getting scared, and they need police to do something about it.”
Retired Westlock RCMP Staff Sgt. Dwayne Rawson said he remains a strong believer in Citizens On Patrol.
“They provided us valuable information which helped us a great deal,” Rawson said. “Their role is not to go out there and confront the criminals or make an arrest; They are just the eyes and ears of the community. For example, we had a number of drug houses in Westlock when I was there. Citizens On Patrol were there, and we had them watch those houses and score some license plates, and we run them through the system.”
Armfelt added during the meeting that the county does use cameras and they actually work.
“The county is doing some things to take on rural crime,” Armfelt said. “(Rawson, county Coun. Travais Johnson) and I attended a meeting at the Alberta Solicitor General’s office where we made a presentation. We each talked about one aspect, and we left after 45 to 50 minutes. We are trying to make sure that the rural crime issue is at the forefront, and we are doing the best we can.”
He added although the county council is not a police force, they are trying to make as many people aware of the issue as they possibly can.
“County councillors will be at a meeting with town council Jan. 9,” Armfelt said. “I intend to make sure that rural crime is discussed at this meeting.”
Rawson said after the meeting that he was pleased with the support they are getting from the Athabasca COPs.
“It’s good that the community is starting to take interest,” Rawson said. “It’s important that the community gets behind the police force and support one another in tackling this issue.”
More on the Jan. 9 meeting to come shortly.