“From a crime reduction perspective in 2012, it was the most successful year that we’ve ever had as a police service,” Chief Troy Cooper said.
He added, “Although we are able to reduce crime, particularly violent crime, every statistic that remains represents a victim. But in 2012 we saw a reduction in violent crime of 31.9 per cent, which includes a 35.2 per cent reduction in common assaults.
“This means that 33 less sexual assaults, 18 less robberies and 252 less common assaults occurred in our community in 2012 than 2011. This is significant.”
While the decrease in violent crime was the most notable success reported by police, general occurrences of crime were down by 7.4 per cent from the previous year.
Overall, police were dispatched to 1071 fewer calls in 2012 than in 2011.
“That’s a reduction of 2.9 per cent,” Cooper said. “And since we believe our primary function is the prevention of crime, this reduction shows, I think, that we’re on the right track.”
In some cases, a reduction in reported incidents disguised the fact that the previous year saw unusually high rates.
For example, 2011 saw a larger-than-usual number of sexual assaults reported, making the 27.5 per cent decrease from 120 to 87 more of a return to normalcy than a net reduction.
However, Cooper acknowledged that the Don’t Be That Guy campaign, a public awareness effort to discourage sexual assault organized in collaboration with Prince Albert Mobile Crisis, may have had an impact.
“There’s no way of knowing for a fact that’s what's changing it,” P.A. Mobile Crisis sexual assault co-ordinator Debbie Salmond said. “But I think it’s positive what we’re doing in the community, making people aware that we know what’s going on and we’re dealing with it.”
“We are getting out more, educating in the schools,” she added. “I do a lot of educating with young offenders and people in group homes, so I think the fact that we’re getting out there in the public more is making a difference as well.”
The strategy of co-ordinating between different organizations certainly appears to be paying dividends. Cooper praised groups such as the Hub (which encompasses local police, health, education and social service organizations and others) and the Centre of Responsibility (COR), both part of Community Mobilization Prince Albert, as critical in reducing crime rates.
Mayor Greg Dionne echoed his sentiments.
“It relates back to the Hub and the COR dealing with preventing problems -- domestic problems, troubled people,” he said.
“So it really gives accolades to how the COR and Hub can work with the community to bring down crime … That is key, and I believe that you are going to continue to see that trend, because they’re getting better at what they do.”
Despite a wave of wilful damage to vehicles in 2012, there was a 15.2 per cent reduction in “Other Property Offenses” as well as a 9.4 per cent decrease in property crime overall.
Cooper noted that as a city with a large youthful population, Prince Albert is no stranger to vandalism, which was actually down slightly in 2012.
Contrary to most other statistics, Prince Albert saw a 30.6 per cent increase in break and enters during 2012, which Cooper identified as the department’s single biggest concern. The vast majority of break and enters occurred in business compounds and sheds rather than private residences.
Cooper said police saw a direct relationship between the rise in break and enters and the 34 per cent increase in drug trafficking offenses.
“We had some reason to believe that there were individuals or groups of individuals that were supporting drug habits, drug trafficking through compounds and business break and enters, sort of a more complicated theft,” he said.
“The average person can’t break in and steal a welding truck or a roll of copper wire and sell it the next day. It takes a more complicated group to do that sort of thing.”
Cooper said the department’s increased focus on drug enforcement through its partnership with the RCMP was central to crime reduction in 2012. He said drugs are often a major contributing factor to violence and property crimes -- an assessment with which the mayor agreed.
“Lots of break and enters are tied to drugs, so it’s all related,” Dionne said. “The more we can attack the drug industry and bring that down, the more we’ll bring down these issues as well.”
From a crime reduction perspective in 2012, it was the most successful year that we’ve ever had as a police service. - Police Chief Troy Cooper
According to Cooper, police collaboration with health, education and social service organizations was critical in drug enforcement, since it helped officers intervene in domestic disputes early on before they spiraled out of control.
Another key element was increased police presence in problem areas.
“I think visibility was huge for us,” Cooper said. “For most of the year, we were able to keep a bylaw officer in the downtown core -- a professional enforcement presence. We’ve reduced shoplifting downtown by 50 per cent over the two years that we’ve had that program going. We know that that’s effective.
“We know that we’ve increased our traffic enforcement almost 10 per cent in the last year, and that obviously, that visibility changes and modifies people’s behavior. They see a professional presence and they see it at the right time and it impacts crime rates.”
Although local police are at the frontlines of crime reduction, the role of ordinary citizens cannot be ignored. Residents who provide tips are often a crucial element in the apprehension of criminals.
As one way of confronting the wave of break and enters, Mayor Dionne urged greater vigilance on the part of ordinary residents and business-owners.
“The key to break and enters is the neighbours,” he said. “If you see something that’s not right, it’s probably not right, so phone the police.
“Sometimes people don’t want to phone the police because they think it’s trivial -- they think it’s a small item -- they don’t know, really, what they’re seeing. But, to me, you’re better to be safe. Phone the police and let them check it out.”
Dionne reminded residents to write down a suspect’s license plate number if they can.
“Sometimes the smallest little thing can solve a crime,” he said.