WESTLOCK — More than 50 local residents, including several representatives from the business community, came out to hear about current annual policing priorities, programs, safety tips and crime stats and had an opportunity to ask questions and express concerns during the Westlock RCMP Town Hall hosted on Feb. 1 at the Westlock Library.
Detachment commander Staff Sgt. Jeff Sehn welcomed members of the public, including Town of Westlock mayor Jon Kramer, CAO Simone Wiley and all councillors. The event that lasted just over three hours and included presentations by a number of guest speakers.
Among them were several from the Westlock RCMP detachment including Sgt. Leigh Drinkwater of the Alberta RCMP Traffic-Westlock Unit, Westlock RCMP Const. Riley Sutherland, Jennifer Kee; Crime Reduction Coordinator Community Policing with RCMP K Division, Enio Perizzolo with Justice and Solicitor General, Garth Kohlsmith with Westlock Citizens on Patrol, Leah Breckenridge with the Westlock Victims Services Unit and Westlock’s newest community peace officer, Kim Wood, and others.
“It was a great turnout. There were a lot of excellent questions, a lot of concerns that are valid that citizens had and I’m hoping we gave them some tools and avenues that will help them moving forward,” said Sehn.
“Every year, every detachment or unit in Alberta or within the RCMP nationwide is required to set up what’s called an annual priority plan. Part of the reason we’re meeting tonight is I’m looking for feedback on what our policing priorities should be in the 2024-2025 policing year,” he said.
Some of those priorities Sehn discussed in the current 2023-2024 annual plan included intelligence-led policing, such as habitual offender management, proactive interactions with prolific offenders (implemented in Oct. 2023) and warrant executions. Enhancing awareness and education including attending community events, interactions with community groups, additional media briefs and town hall meetings and workplace and employee wellness and respect that involves specific training in several areas.
Residents asked questions throughout the night on a variety of topics about the town’s homeless situation and how Westlock compares with other communities in terms of crime numbers, how the town quantifies what is considered an unreasonable property and what is the standard threshold for that. Another question asked what per cent of tint (on a vehicle window) does the RCMP give out fine. Drinkwater said RCMP gives out fines for any amount of tint on windows because tint is not allowed in Alberta.
“Lots of trucks in this town are driving around with tint,” one resident said. “What’s going to happen? What’s going to change?”
During the town hall meeting, Sehn also shared information about the general duty detachment in Westlock and coverage areas, noting that Westlock does not have 24-hour RCMP coverage, but on-call periods every day.
“We have no detachment specific support sections, so we don’t have a crime reduction unit, we don’t have a general investigations section (GIS). Any specialized unit support that we need to get comes from our district office, which is Eastern Alberta District based out of St. Paul,” he said. “Anytime we need a GIS or crime reduction (unit) down here, they will send a team of three to seven people to come help us.”
One resident, rather surprised that Westlock does not have 24-hour RCMP coverage, asked whether during those on-call periods if officers were at home when a call comes in.
“There’s a certain number of members that are paid on call. They have to answer their phone and they will respond directly from home should they be required,” explained Sehn, who did not provide specifics when asked about response times for on-call officers or what hours during a 24-hour period that the Westlock RCMP detachment is on-call.
“It has been like this since I’ve been in the RCMP since 2005,” said Sehn, noting that certain detachments that have extra funded spots from municipalities or ones that are large enough can run 24 hours.
"Smaller detachments hitting the bare minimum most times have an on-call period. As a commander, I can look at where our calls are coming in and I can adjust it by a couple of hours,” he added. “But I can’t run 24-hour policing based on the resources we have.”
In addition to several presentations, Sehn also spoke on recidivism in Westlock and provided some general examples of recent investigations and efforts to increase community engagement in the coming months that will include weekly RAVE alert releases to Citizens on Patrol, coffee with a cop, monthly media releases and investigation specific media releases.
Kramer said there was good feedback, questions and a good turnout by Westlock residents.
“They mentioned it’s been a number of years since the RCMP did one of these (town halls) so it’s good to see the engagement. Folks have their questions and you get facts and truth right from the source, which is important,” said Kramer. “When you come to an event like this, you’re reminded once again that it’s all about relationships and connecting with one another. That’s how you build a strong, safe community.”
A second RCMP Town Hall will be held on Feb. 21, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Vimy Community Hall.