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RCMP hoping to improve community engagement

Sylvan Lake’s RCMP detachment wants to foster better communication between officers and community members.
Community engagement is a priority for Sylvan Lake RCMP members. (Photo by Michaela Ludwig)

Sylvan Lake’s RCMP detachment wants to foster better communication between officers and community members.

On Sept. 27, Staff Sgt. Christopher Peden hosted a town hall meeting at the NexSource Centre, the second one this year, and the community was invited to come out. Peden gave a presentation that detailed crime stats to date for Sylvan Lake and the surrounding area, the reasoning behind some of those numbers and efforts the RCMP officers are making to ensure safety within their patrol area.

However, one of the key messages that came from the meeting was the need for the community to report crimes when they happen, rather than brushing it off.

“We can only investigate crimes we know about,” explained Peden. “Although it may seem trivial to citizens, it informs trends or crimes as a whole going on in our jurisdiction. We can use an analysis of the data to determine hot spots – where concentrations of crime are occurring – and that gives us the opportunity to police more efficiently.”

Peden said reporting all crime, even petty crimes, paints a larger picture of the community and what’s happening within it. For example, are these crimes moving around to different neighbourhoods, is it a single event or a series.

“This information gives us more insight and we can appropriately respond,” said Peden. “We share our information with other local detachments and we can compare crime trends.”

Identifying trends can help the RCMP develop better patrol plans or the detachment’s approach to solving particular crimes, Peden explained.

Each detachment operates with an annual performance plan, and Peden said part of Sylvan Lake’s plan for the 2022/2023 year includes communication with the community. However, communication goes both ways and the RCMP are working to improve communication with citizens after a crime has occurred, making sure people are informed about what has happened. Peden said this communication will become easier once Victim Services is up and running again for Sylvan Lake.

When it comes to reporting crimes and knowing what is happening around Sylvan Lake, Peden mentioned the importance of the Crime Capture Program, where citizens can register their security cameras, and this gives officers another avenue for investigation.

In attendance at the town hall meeting were other RCMP officers from the Central Alberta Division, as well as members of town council and two citizens – Scott Klimack and a man who only identified himself as Jim.

“I’m here out of hopefulness,” said Jim. “You’re a new commander and this is a new start. But there is a crime problem here and you’ve inherited some issues.”

Jim said he knows that people don’t report crimes, but that there is a disturbing amount of crime happening.

“I know people here, and we talk,” Jim explained. But no one wants to admit that there might be a problem because it’ll affect revenue. I wouldn’t have wasted my time in coming here today, but I am hopeful.”

“A common complaint is that no one gets back to us,” said Klimack. “I don’t know why community engagement is lacking.”

“I’m here and I’m committed to Sylvan Lake,” said Peden. “I took over in January and call backs is something we want to improve.” Peden agreed that if citizens don’t hear back from the RCMP, they’ll stop calling in. And if they stop calling in, the officers won’t have a clear picture of what’s happening in the community.

“I feel like there are positive changes occurring,” said Peden. “I’m willing to have these conversations.”

Peden reported on overall information and several crime stats during the town hall meeting. For example, he said the detachment is now fully staffed.

“During the latter part of last year, we had several vacancies,” he explained. “Now we have a full complement of members, so we’re seeing an increase in proactive policing because we have the resources to do it.”

Members are putting more of their time towards Project Lighthouse, an initiative that has officers performing compliance checks on newly released individuals that are subject to bail conditions. While Project Lighthouse has been active for a few years, Peden said the detachment is always looking for ways to implement crime reduction initiatives. Between April, May and June of this year, Peden said officers performed 240 compliance checks, which is a definite increase.

“With members doing compliance checks, we do find people who are failing to comply with their conditions and we do charge them,” he said.

During his presentation, Peden also reported on Sylvan Lake and the surrounding area and how the jurisdiction falls on the crime severity index. Currently, this jurisdiction sits at 99.9 on the index. For comparison, out of 146 detachments in the province, Sylvan Lake is 123rd on the provincial side, meaning the patrol area outside of the town of Sylvan Lake, and 82nd on the municipal side, meaning crimes that are occurring within the town proper. The average for all RCMP detachments is 114, so Sylvan Lake falls below the average.

“Our crime severity index is dropping, therefore our rankings are dropping,” explained Peden. “If we were number one on the list, we’d be in a really bad spot.” The number one jurisdiction has a crime severity index number of 981. Red Deer municipal detachment, for example, is 176.4 and sits at number 35 on the list.

Sylvan Lake’s RCMP detachment also patrols Eckville, Bentley and the summer villages surrounding the lake.

There will be hosting another town hall in the spring, so be sure to watch for details.