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Drugs, theft, snow clearing among issues discussed at Olds crime town hall

Break-ins to vehicles and businesses, drugs, domestic violence, snow shovelling rules and speed limits in playgrounds were the major issues raised during a town hall meeting on crime, held Jan. 25 at the Evergreen Centre in Olds

OLDS — Break-ins to vehicles and businesses, drugs, domestic violence, snow shovelling rules and speed limits in playgrounds were the major issues raised during a town hall meeting on crime, held Jan. 25 in Olds. 

Other questions included whether catalytic converter theft is a problem as well as what sheriffs stationed in Olds are responsible for. 

The two-hour meeting was held at the Evergreen Centre. Attendance ranged from a high of 20 to a low of 16 as the meeting passed the 90-minute mark. 

On hand to answer questions were Olds RCMP commanding officer Staff Sgt. Warren Wright, Olds RCMP Sgt. Greg Beach, Olds senior peace officer Paul Wright, Chinook Arch Victim Services program manager Rhonda Kearns and Olds RCMP chaplain James Rosenberger.  

Mayor Judy Dahl also attended for most of the meeting. 

Wright told the crowd that Olds RCMP are in pretty good shape, staff-wise, having 16 police officers. However, not all are out on the street at the same time. They work in shifts and at any given time, some may be tied up with certain investigations. 

One woman said there’s a lot of concern about people rifling through vehicles and property. Beach explained that in general, those criminals tend to be one or two people who need money for drugs. 

Staff Sgt. Wright said in some cases, it’s a small group of people from out of town who can go through as many as 300 vehicles in one night, then skip town and head to another community – Didsbury or Carstairs, for example. 

Beach said people can help solve that problem by locking doors to their vehicles, homes, garages and sheds because these thieves want to be in and out quickly. 

“A lot of those people, it’s crimes of opportunity like not locking their doors,” Beach said. They’ve got all night because they can’t sleep, so they’re just going to try door handles until they find a door that’s unlocked and they take the change. 

He urged people to keep their valuables and money in vehicles out of sight. 

“I’ve gone to the malls and there’s people with their Gucci purse and a computer sticking out of it or a pad/laptop or a briefcase right on the front seat and I’m like, ‘what an opportunity.’” 

Staff Sgt. Wright made a point he made during a similar town hall meeting in Bowden the night before.  

He said a lot of talk about crime in the community is generated on Facebook and doesn’t always contain facts.  

Furthermore, he and Beach said those groups don’t call police about what they see or hear, thus police can’t follow it up.  

One man said a business owner he knows has “lost faith in police” because when his business was broken into recently, he arrived before police did, even though he lives half an hour out of town. 

Staff Sgt. Wright and Beach said there are a couple of reasons for that: police might have been tied up with a higher-priority event like a domestic dispute and alarm companies have their own protocols they go through before even contacting police. 

As a result, Beach said, “you’re looking at sometimes a 10-minute delay, 15,” depending on the time of day. 

A complaint was made about the town’s snow clearing policy and that residential streets may not be cleared by the town in the future, as is the case in some other communities.  

Mayor Dahl said that’s a possibility. She noted the town only has so much money to work with and indicated that if residents want their streets cleared of snow and are willing to pay the price, they’ll have to make that known to council. 

Concerns were also raised about the fact that school zones at École Deer Meadow School and Holy Trinity Catholic School could become playground zones.  

Administrative staff raised the possibility of doing so at École Olds Elementary School (OES) as well, although it’s not considered as great a safety risk because it’s not alongside major roads, like the other two are. 

One woman argued against OES becoming a playground zone because she said there’s very little traffic there and very few children, once they’ve been picked up from school. She was advised to write a letter to council expressing her views. 

Kearns outlined how victim services supports people impacted by crime, including ensuring they know their rights. She added they have a new support dog who has been a godsend. 

Staff Sgt. Wright said one of the Olds detachment officers is a community resource officer, a position that’s been vacant for some time. 

This person will work on crime reduction, community engagement, police visibility and traffic as well as domestic violence and mental health programming.  

It’s hoped he can assume his new duties on about March 1. 

He’s currently on staff, but when he moves into his new role, someone will have to be brought in from outside the detachment to fill his current position. 

One meeting participant expressed concern about people “doing wheelies” at Rotary Athletic Park. 

Senior peace officer Paul Wright said he’s aware of that problem and that another problem spot is behind the library where youth tend to gather. 

He said it’s hoped that peace officers will be able to do some “education pieces” in schools to point out how tickets handed out for causing problems can affect one’s insurance or driver’s licence. 

The town’s requirement to remove snow and ice from sidewalks – including the portion of driveway that runs over a sidewalk – came in for discussion. 

Senior Peace Officer Paul Wright said snow clearance is a difficult, emotional issue with some residents, but keeping sidewalks clear of snow and ice clearance is a high priority with the town and peace officers have a duty to handle each issue impartially. 

That’s a challenge. He said Olds has 107 kilometres of streets. 

It was noted that police end up often arresting the same criminals, time and time again as they offend again after getting out on bail or serve short sentences. 

Police were asked if that’s depressing for officers. 

Beach admitted it can be, but he tells officers not to dwell on that, but focus instead on the good job they did arresting the offender and taking good statements from victims or the accused. 

“When you switch your focus to what you can control, then it’s more rewarding, and I think that’s the focus that they look at,” he said. 

One man said, “do you know of any judges who know how to spell the word or say the word ‘consecutive?’” Have they ever looked that up in the dictionary?” 

“That’s a political thing,” someone said. 

Many people in the crowd were surprised to know that the Olds detachment has a volunteer chaplain. 

Rosenberger’s role is to be a sympathetic ear for police officers and staff when they deal with traumatic events. He also serves as lead pastor of the East Olds Baptist Church. 

Rosenberger is one of many in RCMP detachments across the province. He said there are also chaplains in the Sundre and Didsbury detachments. 

He’s been a chaplain for about 17 years, 10 of which have been spent at the Olds detachment. 

Kearns said he’s invaluable. 

“There are some pretty horrific things that the members see and they really do not feel that they want to talk to anybody about it and then they go home to their spouses, so a very, very valuable position," she said. 

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