Sgt. Erin St-Cyr and Cpl. Mike Dillon of the Ponoka RCMP gave a report to council during their regular meeting on Oct. 26, updating council on the detachment’s efforts to curb vandalism and crime in the downtown core.
“We have been focusing a lot of efforts downtown — a lot of increased presence and patrols,” said St-Cyr, adding they also have a new recruit that joined them about a month ago.
Part of that new member’s focus is the downtown core. They’ve also engaged a district analyst to work with the new recruit to examine crime trends in the area.
“That’s something we’re actively working on right now,” she said.
Dillon added the members are “keeping their feet to the fire” and that solving the problem will take time.
Coun. Cal David brought up the idea of increasing security camera surveillance in the downtown core.
St-Cyr responded that although they would be helpful, she wasn’t sure what the town’s interest in that would be.
She noted that security cameras vary in price and businesses have different budgets, but if the town wanted to pay for cameras in certain key areas after they were identified by the analyst, that could be looked at.
“That certainly can’t hurt to have those,” she said. “It is pretty difficult to say ‘That wasn’t me,’ when we can effectively identify someone right on camera. They are helpful.”
Storage of the media and privacy are also issues that would have to be discussed before any cameras went up, said Dillon.
“We will never argue that ‘boots on the ground’ are not an effective strategy — certainly they are … we can have boots on the ground lots and lots but we can’t be everywhere all the time,” said St-Cyr.
“As much as we are watching our prolific offenders, our prolific offenders are also watching us,” she said, adding that those criminals will wait until members are occupied before committing a crime.
“They drive by, they can look in the parking lot, they see if there’s PC’s in the parking lot, or not in the parking, lot, when we go out to a call and a lot of these folks are opportunists.”
At times when members are occupied managing situations elsewhere, that’s when cameras may or may not be effective but it is another tool that should be considered, she said.
Coun. Teri Underhill mentioned that nowadays, even with security footage, it’s not always possible to identify people because they’re wearing masks.
Dillon added that even when people do have cameras, they don’t always know how to retrieve the footage.
“It’s frustrating … that’s somewhat of a struggle that we have,” he said.
Mayor Kevin Ferguson said he’s met with a number of people from downtown over the last six weeks, and from the feedback he’s heard, he’s wondering if the crime in the area isn’t more of a mental health issue.
“It seems like after 4:30 p.m., we’re the catch-all for everything, and it does occupy and use up a lot of our time, dealing with the mental health calls and issues with the youth, and stuff that could probably be dealt with better by a different agency that are experts in that,” said Dillon. “It all falls on us after hours.”
“We’re as committed as you folks are to keeping Ponoka safe and keeping members of the community safe as well, and happy,” said St-Cyr.