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Property crime down in Athabasca, persons crime rises

RCMP preview quarterly numbers, alongside upcoming sessions for community engagement and feedback
Athabasca RCMP Staff Sgt. Mark Hall presented Athabasca town councillors with the RCMP’s Q3 numbers Feb. 6. The detachment focused on property crime, substance-related crimes, and community engagement in 2023, and are looking to hear from community members about what its new focus should be come April.

ATHABASCA - The end of 2023 also brought about the end of the RCMP’s third quarter, meaning it’s time for the local detachment commanders to update municipalities on what happened to the crime rates over the last few months.

Athabasca’s detachment commander Staff Sgt. Mark Hall, was in front of Town of Athabasca councillors during their Feb. 6 regular council meeting, where he provided up-to-date numbers on what was happening around town and what his 15 police officers were focusing on.

Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, Hall’s report showed a significant decrease in property crime, which fell by 16 per cent. He credited efforts constables had made in the Calling Lake area following an Oct. 17 declaration of a State of Local Emergency (SOLE) for part of the decrease.

"We had some small increases in certain communities, particularly up north. The members really worked hard to locate, identify, and charge some of the individuals involved,” said Hall. “We were able to link a significant amount of break and enters and property crime to them, get them charged, and get them off the street. Now we’re in a position where we’re monitoring them from here.”

While property crime decreased, persons crime, which includes assault, sexual assault, harassment and uttering threats, among other crimes, increased 23 per cent, going from 52 files in 2022 to 64 files in 2023. Over half that increase came from assault files, which jumped from 32 cases to 41.

“Generally, it’s people that know each other 99 per cent of the time. It’s people who know each other or domestic violence situations,” said Hall. “It’s not coming from random attacks on people.”

The other jump that the RCMP saw was in impaired driving, whether it was alcohol or narcotics. Through some targeted enforcement and check stops, the Mounties laid eight roadside sanctions — immediate, short-term suspensions of a driver’s licence.

“It’s significant. We haven’t seen that in quite a while,” said Hall. “It wasn’t because we held a bunch more check stops. We have two officers right now who are spending a lot of time on the road, and they’re looking for those impaired drivers, stolen property, drugs, anything like that. It’s the result of that.”

Bail reform

Hall said the SOLE hadn’t required a drastic increase in manpower for the detachment, although they had dedicated some extra overtime to the area in the aftermath. Instead, he said the extra attention had allowed him to advocate for some other solutions to the issue, including the possibility of bail reform.

Currently the provincial government is lobbying the feds for changes to bail reform — while the UCP are focusing on violent offenders, Hall said the detachment's lobbying focus has been on repeat offenders and property crime.

“On the rural side of crime, a lot of people are being affected by that,” said Hall. “We’ve had some excellent successes … When we arrest these people for the umpteenth time for property crime or whatever, and they get released before the paperwork is done, that’s a problem.”

Community feedback

Hall said property crime and substance-related crimes had been the focus of the detachment in 2023, which resulted in significant progress thanks to some help from community members. With their Q1 coming up April 1, the RCMP are looking for public feedback on what their focus should be.

“It’s generally the same few topics, but I’m waiting for the community to tell me,” said Hall in a Feb. 7 interview. “We’re here to serve the community. We’re not here taking orders from somewhere else on what to enforce. It’s about what the community wants us to focus on.”

The detachment will be hosting an online town hall Feb. 15, which will include time for local residents to submit their concerns — anyone wishing to register can send an email to [email protected], and anyone with questions can attach them to their sign-up email.

“What do you want from us to start doing?” asked Hall. “We’ve also got our youth advisory board, so we’re looking for the youth opinion as well. We’ll be asking what policing is to them and what they think we should be focusing on.”

Hall will be joined by ‘K’ Division’s community safety and wellness group, who will be bringing along a few different presenters, including Project Lockup, how community members can use environmental design to make themselves a harder target for criminals, Crimestoppers, and more.

“They’ll be giving tips on what people can do to protect themselves and keep their property safe,” said Hall. “Oftentimes, it’s just a matter of education.” 

Cole Brennan

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