The shock of last year’s four freezing deaths in Prince Albert also spurred the community to work together to prevent future incidents, city officials say.
Commenting on the lack of such fatalities in the city thus far this winter, Police Chief Troy Cooper noted that the deaths last winter were an aberration from the norm, attributable to a number of factors.
“Most years we haven’t had that as an issue, and I think we had just sort of a series of misfortunes last year,” Cooper said.
“The weather was more severe than normal perhaps. We had a higher than average number of people that were out in that weather … It was just an unusual year and something that we don’t want to see again.”
By the same token, he pointed to multiple factors as helping prevent freezing deaths this winter.
Among them are more people watching for vulnerable individuals, greater resources to help those in need and an increased sensitivity to the issue among P.A. residents.
“This year we’ve done a lot of things differently,” Cooper said. “We’ve had a more informed public, we’ve had an opportunity to assist and work together with the province and with the Grand Council on the cold-weather shelter, and we’ve seen our intoxication arrests decrease over the winter.
“From the winter of 2012 versus the winter of 2013, we have a decrease of 2.75 per cent -- which doesn’t seem like a lot, but if it’s those 2.75 per cent that are at (the) highest risk, then it means a great deal.”
Both Cooper and Coun. Rick Orr praised the role of the new 10-bed cold-weather shelter, which launched in December at the Prince Albert YWCA with help from the provincial government and First Nations partners.
“I truly think that having the Grand Council come forward and help the ‘Y’ with the emergency shelter … has been a huge, huge catalyst in this (lack of freezing deaths so far),” Orr said.
While the shelter remains a work in progress, Cooper noted that police saw a drop in the number of arrests during the first few weeks after the launch.
“We’re hopeful that what that means is that people who shouldn’t be in police cells are ending up at the shelter,” he said.
I just think the community has to work together just to keep their eyes open. That’s the whole way that we’re hopefully going to get through this winter without any incidents. Coun. Rick Orr
“We’ll evaluate that at the end of the year and see if that’s exactly what has occurred, but we’re hopeful and the early numbers support that idea.”
Despite still being in the planning stages, Orr and Cooper both believed the development of a comprehensive alcohol strategy by Community Mobilization Prince Albert has already had an impact.
By promoting discussion about responsible alcohol use in the community, they suggested, the planning sessions have helped mobilize residents and make them more aware of the issue.
But the job of protecting vulnerable residents doesn’t end there, Cooper said.
“We have to continue to make sure that people feel free and comfortable to call the police if they see people who they think are at risk of harm, specifically in the cold weather,” he said.
“We have to continue with our conversation about alcohol and how we’re going to consume alcohol, how we’re going to sell alcohol in the community and how we’re going to handle people who have chronic illness.”
Orr highlighted the role of ambulance drivers, police, taxi drivers and individuals on shift work in keeping a lookout for people who might be in trouble.
He also reported hearing from residents who invited individuals appearing down-and-out to have a cup of coffee in order to inquire about their situation.
“Everybody’s out there, including the public, and if they see someone that looks to be in trouble, it’s better to err on the side of caution than not to call (the police),” Orr said.
“I just think the community has to work together just to keep their eyes open,” he added. “That’s the whole way that we’re hopefully going to get through this winter without any incidents.”