Rocky View County (RVC) has released its policing survey results and feedback suggests county residents don’t feel there is enough RCMP presence.
“It will take us some time to process all of this feedback, but one thing that jumps out already is the theme of more police presence in the community,” said Lorraine Wesley-Riley, the county’s manager of Enforcement Services. “People want to see the police more often, but in a large, sparsely populated rural municipality you simply can’t achieve the kinds of patrols you’d see in an urban area.”
The Cochrane RCMP dispatch has 20 municipal officers and up to 14 or more on duty at any given time. There are an additional 21 officers from the dispatch patrolling the surrounding county area and Morley.
However, as of the summer, there are 230 vacant RCMP positions province wide, according to a CTV article.
The RVC survey prompted respondents questions on the relationships between residents and the RCMP, and on the general sense of safety in the community.
Though there was some positive feedback in terms of the RCMP’s relationship with community members, respondents don’t appear to be comfortable RCMP are responding quickly enough or effectively – most notably in the northeast quadrant of the county.
Southeast and northeast county residents ranked their relationship the highest with 74 per cent reporting their RCMP relationship as “good” or “excellent.” By comparison, the number was 64 per cent among north and west residents.
However, when faced with crime, just over half of county-wide respondents ranked RCMP response time as good or excellent and that number plummeted to 32 per cent among just northeast residents.
The Cochrane Eagle reached out to RCMP to find out current response times but were told those statistics are not recorded.
Only 43 per cent of northeast residents agreed or strongly agreed with that statement “I feel safe in my community,” compared to 62 per cent in the north central area, 66 per cent in the southeast, and 74 per cent in the west.
“Those numbers directly relate to population density in these four areas of the county. Generally, people feel more exposed in less-populated rural areas,” Wesley-Riley said.
“The number of participants clearly shows that policing is an important issue for Rocky Viewers,” said Reeve Greg Boehlke. “RCMP figures show that total Criminal Code offences in the county rose 95 per cent to 2,414 in 2016 from 1,322 in 2014. We saw the number drop back to 2,150 in 2017, but we need to reduce that even more.”
Survey respondents were asked to choose their top three policing priorities.
Across the county, the top three priorities were consistent with major property crime ranking the highest by far with 1,455 out of more than 1,800 respondents.
The second highest ranked countywide priority was crimes against persons at 862, followed by minor property crime at 813.
Residents in the county’s more-populous southeast and west areas identified impaired driving as the fourth most important policing priority, with illegal drugs in fifth place. Residents in the north central and northeast switched those priorities, with illegal drugs in fourth place and impaired driving in fifth.
Boehlke said the challenges RVC faces when it comes to addressing the need for a greater policing presence include the large geographical area compared to urban areas and the increasing encumbrance of RCMP administrative tasks due to changes in the criminal justice system.
“The RCMP tell us the paperwork on something such as an impaired driving charge can now take three times longer than it used to. So they’re forced to fill out forms instead of patrolling the community,” Boehlke says.
RVC has set out its top two priorities. The first is a policing strategy for Langdon as it transitions to a population of more than 5,000.
RVC’s second priority is establishing and supporting more crime watch groups throughout the county.
“Neighbours helping neighbours is part of our heritage as a rural municipality,” Boehlke said. “A crime watch program is right in line with this principle. We’ll certainly work to achieve more police presence, but rural crime watch groups are very effective in preventing crime, very cost-effective, and something we can do right now.”
Both Boehlke and Wesley-Riley said residents interested in forming a crime watch group should contact County Enforcement Services at 403-230-1401 or EnforcementServices@rockyview.ca.