Fewer calls to police in 2013 signify positive trend: Chief

Matt Gardner
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Police Chief Troy Cooper has deemed 2013 a “very successful” year for the Prince Albert Police Service, as evidenced by a five percent decrease in call volume.

Prince Albert Police Chief Troy Cooper stands next to one of the cells for young male offenders at police headquarters. Cooper characterized 2013 as a very successful year for the P.A. Police Service, with a five per cent drop in overall call volume, lower rates of crimes against persons and increased traffic and drug enforcement.

Sitting down with the Daily Herald to discuss the previous year, Cooper pointed to that representative statistic as one of the clear highlights of 2013.

“Five per cent less people phoned in asking for the police in the year,” he said. “I think in a community where we could expect crime to go up -- our population’s young, there should be an increase in a lot of activity -- and yet we’re seeing less calls to the police for crime, that’s a really good sign for us that we’re trending in the right direction and some of our initiatives are working.”

“There’s always struggles of staffing and budgets and the challenges of policing in a community that’s young -- and where there’s pockets of poverty mixed in with people who have higher-than-provincial average income, there are certain neighbourhood issues,” he added.

“But aside from that, we had a very successful year.”

From Cooper’s perspective, the experience of local police over the last year further underlines the need for the city to adopt a comprehensive alcohol strategy.

Alcohol remains one of the biggest drivers of crime in Prince Albert, with often tragic results. Cooper cited seven cases of injury or death resulting from impaired driving, as well as the four freezing deaths last winter.

“We know that a lot of our violent crime was driven by alcohol, and so throughout the year we worked with our partner agencies in Community Mobilization,” he said.

“We’ve started down the road of developing an alcohol strategy and we’re just excited to see some of those focus groups that will be taking place over the next couple of months.”

Going through the statistics for 2013, Cooper described a number of positive trends.

Crimes against persons -- a category that includes violent crime, domestic assaults and robberies, among other offences -- decreased by 3.2 per cent over the past year.

The downtown area saw the biggest drop for crimes against persons as well as crime in general, which Cooper attributed to more visible enforcement through police and bylaw foot patrols in the area.

In 2013, Prince Albert also saw one-third fewer break-and-enters than it did in 2012.

“We know that property crime is driven by drugs, and we think that part of our success in that area is the fact that our drug enforcement was up by 13 per cent,” Cooper said.

During the past year, local police greatly intensified drug enforcement as well as efforts to fight impaired driving.

Cooper said that officers took the latter issue to heart after a number of serious incidents early in the year.

With very little direction needed, officers have increased traffic enforcement -- specifically impaired driving enforcement -- by 45 per cent, and the issue will remain a priority in 2014.

“Two things have occurred,” Cooper said. “First of all, our officers are more determined to prosecute impaired drivers, so they’re making an effort. We have more staff out specifically looking for that in blitzes.

“But we also have a group of committed people that have seen a lot of carnage. They’ve seen the damage that occurs as a result of impaired driving, and so there’s a commitment -- just basically on the human level -- to go out and make sure that it doesn’t occur, that we can limit that as much as we can.”

The second development, he said, was an increase in community awareness of impaired driving following extensive media coverage of related events.

“It’s made people more sensitive to it and we’re receiving more complaints and calls about it,” Cooper said.

We’re not trying to just focus on crime rates. We’re trying to focus on community health. Police Chief Troy Cooper

“It’s becoming less and less acceptable to drink and to drive. People are reporting it to the police and we’re going out and making an effort to capture those people and make sure that they’re brought to justice.”

Traffic enforcement was rendered more difficult early in the year due to the late spring.

High levels of ice and snow often caused people to slide through red lights and stop signs, obliging police to offer some leeway due to the poor road conditions.

Other challenges over the year included finding ways to ensure the safety of the city’s more vulnerable population and dealing with ongoing wilful damage to and thefts from vehicles -- the random nature of which makes capture of the offenders difficult.

“For us it’s important to solve those kind of crimes and we had some success in that sort of crime category as well -- most recently with some young fellas that were shooting out vehicles,” Cooper said.

“They had damaged 40 vehicles and we eventually captured them … There’s no way to make that better, but it’s nice I think for the public to know that we did spend the time and the resources to bring those people to court and hold them accountable.”

Heading into 2014, P.A. police are excited by a number of developments and are actively recruiting volunteers for various tasks.

Recent strategic planning sessions have identified the need for police to increase connections with area youth, and a committee is currently working on a social media strategy.

Police will continue to work on traffic enforcement and impaired driving. The force also plans to maintain their focus on certain high-crime neighbourhoods to prevent further deterioriation.

One major development in 2014 will be the adoption of Tasers -- also known as conducted energy devices or CEDs -- by Prince Albert police.

Every officer will receive Taser training as the devices are slowly rolled out starting in January or February. Along with Tasers for the emergency response team, 10 Tasers will be available for operational police officers.

“We’re happy to have that as another use of force option for our officers,” Cooper said.

He added that Taser policy for the P.A. Police Service must be compliant with suggestions from the Saskatchewan Police Commission.

“The use itself is reported, not only to the police administration but to the provincial oversight body, so it’s a very highly regulated tool,” the chief said.

Finally, police plan to continue working with Community Mobilization to develop an alcohol strategy.

Cooper credited police partnership with other social service delivery agencies as one of the crucial factors behind their success in 2013.

“Working together like that I think is the way that we’re going to be successful, our community,” he said.

“We’re not trying to just focus on crime rates. We’re trying to focus on community health. We think that if we contribute some way to those other agencies that that will have a spinoff effect on safety. So if we can keep kids in school, we know that that’ll contribute to community safety.”

“That’s kind of a different viewpoint from traditional policing,” he added. “But we know that we’re just one contributor to a healthy community.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, Daily Herald, P.A. Police Service Saskatchewan Police Commission

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