Stampede Week is always a busy one for the Ponoka RCMP detachment, as it’s all hands on deck to deal with the rise of calls for service the influx of visitors bring, however, this year was particularly difficult due to a couple of incidents.
The fatality during practice on June 26, the night before the Stampede was to begin, put a sombre tone on the rest of the week, said detachment commander Staff Sgt. Chris Smiley.
“It was another successful year, truly, but marked by tragedy before it even started — it’s hard to recover from that,” said Smiley.
Between the added calls related to Stampede activity, the RCMP also continued to respond to business as usual which all has an impact, he said.
For example, about 30 minutes before the parade started on June 30, RCMP responded to a fatal rollover on Matejka Road.
After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the return of the Ponoka Stampede saw a record level of attendance, which also meant an increase in calls for service, however, there were less people in cells during Stampede Week this year, said Smiley.
From June 20 to July 3, there was a total of 420 calls for service (up from 341 in 2019) — 295 of which were from within the Town of Ponoka.
The prisoner count was down (from 98 in 2019 to 41 this year) due to several repeat offenders for public intoxication not being present at the Stampede this year.
There were complaints of 14 assaults, however, three were determined to be unfounded, meaning the RCMP investigated but found no grounds to lay charges.
Of the assaults, four were on the Stampede Grounds.
There were two aggravated assaults in town, six assaults with a weapon (one unfounded) and two sexual assaults. Smiley said unfortunately, there is the potential for sexual assaults whenever there are large groups of people together consuming alcohol.
There were seven missing persons reports, six in town, and one in the county. Some of those were people who were separated on the grounds, while others were just regular business, though all were accounted for, said Smiley.
In town, there were 27 incidents of causing a disturbance (one unfounded), compared to 52 in 2019. Causing a disturbance includes public intoxication, yelling or drunken behaviour.
There were 19 calls about mischief, which includes property damage or interference with lawful enjoyment of property. Two were ultimately unfounded.
A total of 31 complaints of thefts were received, with four being unfounded.
Ponoka RCMP responded to three impaired rivers, and two alcohol-related road side suspensions.
There were five break and enters and five Mental Health Act responses.
Smiley noted that although the detachment received several complaints about noise during the Stampede Parade on June 30, he said they will not be pursuing any tickets for excessive noise.
In the bear mace incident on the grounds on June 30, RCMP laid charges on a young offender for possession of the spray. However, as no one came forward as a victim, they were unable to determine who the target was and therefor link the offender with the discharge of the spray.
In 2019, there was also an incident of bear spray used on the Stampede Grounds that affected multiple people.
The Ponoka RCMP issued a total of 92 tickets were issued for provincial offences, which include moving and non-moving traffic offences, etc.
Provincial sheriffs provided additional assistance, issuing 43 traffic violation tickets in town, five of which were alcohol-related, and made four public intoxication arrests.
Provincial sheriffs also assisted Ponoka RCMP members with various check stops during the week.
Each year, RCMP members from other communities help to fill overtime shifts during Stampede Week. Though Smiley said they could always use more officers for comfort and convenience, they filled all the required shifts.
Although Stampede Week is busy to be sure, it’s still a lot of fun, Said Smiley, adding that several of the visiting officers sign up year after year to be part of the event.