Westlock RCMP say they may know who is behind the recent string of break-ins in downtown Westlock, which has left many residents and business owners questioning the local authorities.
This update was revealed at the Town of Westlock’s council meeting on Monday, Oct. 24, where Staff Sgt. Bryan Clayton presented a report showing a jump in break-ins, which prompted questions from councillors.
“Of course, recently, in the past few weeks, the downtown area of Westlock was hit pretty hard,” Clayton said, adding that the spree started on Sept. 19 with four reported break and enters that day, with six more the following week and five more the week after.
There has been a 22.7 per cent increase for break and enters compared to 2010. There have been 81 reported break and enters so far in 2011, compared to 66 at this time last year.
Clayton pointed out that the statistics only go to the end of September, so the 22.7 per cent increase does not reflect the offences in October, of which he said there have been a few so far.
“We do have a couple of tips and avenues of investigation that we’re following up on in relation to the string of break-ins,” he said. “We might have a handle on who’s possibly responsible, but again, that’s something we’re following up on.”
Clayton said he believes the break-ins occurring in Westlock have also happened in Barrhead, Redwater and even across the border into Saskatchewan and Manitoba, adding that he believes they are all related.
He told council that he doesn’t believe the most recent events are related to the other “serious” ones in mid-to-late September.
“Basically, just looking at one or two, if indeed it’s even that sophisticated. Quite often, there’ll be some guy standing lookout while the main guy goes and does a smash and grab,” he said.
In the smash and grab break-ins he said the cost of repairs are far more than the goods obtained, and that the damages could climb into the thousands — a cost business owners sometimes have to pay when insurance doesn’t cover it.
Coun. Sheila Foley raised the possibility of installing town-owned cameras along Main Street and questioned Clayton on whether that would be a “positive, corrective action.”
He said that cameras could assist police, although businesses should start looking at upgrading their security measures and possibly have alarm systems installed to deter criminals.
“It probably would be a positive step. Basically, that would be at least the eyes of the Town of Westlock and if something is moving downtown in Westlock that shouldn’t be or windows are being broken, it would certainly help the police,” Clayton said.
Clayton assured council that the Westlock RCMP are doing what they can to ensure the community remains a safe place to live and work in.
The statistics he shared also showed a significant jump in assaults, with 26.1 per cent more reports at this time of year compared to last — 87 in 2011 compared to last year’s 69.
“I don’t know what the reason for that is, but everybody seems to be quite concerned with assaults and persons offences in general,” he said.
Persons offences include things like robbery, assault, criminal harassment, uttering threats and sexual offences. The total number of persons offences is 146 so far this year compared to 116 at this time last year — a 25.9 per cent increase.
“It’s not very often that I’ve ever seen an assault for review or that’s being investigated where the person being assaulted was not known by the suspect,” Clayton said.
“It always seems to be something within a family or relationship or past friends or friends that just get in some sort of a ruckus with each other and end up assaulting each other.”
Despite the jump in assaults, he said Westlock is still safe and said the likelihood of being assaulted by a stranger is “basically zero.” Other concerns shared at the meeting were the number of false or abandoned 911 calls, which are up 202.4 per cent from 42 at this time last year to 127 this year.
“We always respond to these 911 calls with some urgency,” he said. “We basically have to drop what we’re doing and find out the nature of these 911 calls.”
He said that a lot of times, the calls are coming from a public building and said many are from the hospital when they experience system glitches.
Also mentioned at the meeting was concern over the volume of fingerprinting requests for the public, which takes roughly 30 minutes per person and has to be completed by a police officer, which means less time on the street and more time in the detachment.