Store owners concerned it’s hurting business while feeling there is little done in making complaints.
Lac La Biche and District Chamber of Commerce have noticed an increase in the number of complaints received from local businesses about their concerns surrounding criminal activity in the area.
In a letter to the County from Chamber executive director Karen Collins, the behaviour that has been brought up from business owners includes, “the increasing number of acts of theft, vandalism, break-ins, harassment, and aggressive behaviour.”
Local businesses say they are losing money because of the increase in theft and the streets are not as welcoming anymore for Lac La Biche residents and tourists.
“We’ve had people tell us that they were visiting and have been harassed in the parking lot while visiting one of the stores, so they said they were going to go to Cold Lake hoping that they would be more welcome there,” said Collins.
“We have it here in our own building where people have been harassed here, not in the chamber office, but in the hallway and by the entrance. I’ve watched fights and arguments outside of my window here.”
The Chamber fears that Lac La Biche will continue to suffer if something isn’t done to deal with issues stemming from criminals and also the homeless population.
Chris Clark, Manager of Enforcement Services, says he has noticed a decrease in complaints, but the Chamber believes less people are complaining because they had “given up” and “nothing is ever done.”
To address this, Clark says one of the main problems is people don’t know who or when to call law enforcement agencies.
Many complaints take longer to process because they are calling the RCMP when they should be calling the peace officers and vice versa.
“If people are calling the peace officer complaint line to report criminal acts they are creating a slower response typically because our peace officers now need to go through two dispatch centres and relay the information to have an appropriate police response,” said Clark.
“The same goes for bylaw matters. If someone calls the RCMP for a bylaw complaint they could also end up with a slower response because the Police officer who may be doing other tasks now needs to call a peace officer. Calling the right agency will ensure the most appropriate and timely response.”
Knowing who to call can save time for both the person who is filing the complaint, and the agency processing the complaint. Clark clarifies who to call for each circumstance.
“Our local RCMP officers deal with all criminal matters such as thefts, break and enters, impaired driving, assaults, weapon complaints, complaints about drug dealers and persons using drugs and a large scale of other issues,” said Clark.
“Our Peace Officers are appointed to deal with liquor issues such as consuming liquor in public and public intoxication, traffic-related issues, animal control issues, unsightly and unsafe properties, loitering, noise complaints, general community safety issues and a wide variety of other items.”
Collins says there have already been some potential solutions that could help make downtown a safer place again.
“Some of the suggestions involve having a store front policing office complete with an officer and a social worker,” said Collins.
“Others that I’ve talked to said they would totally be in favour of getting a healing center with psychiatric services.”
Collins suggested in her letter that a committee be formed and a meeting to take place that involves businesses, law enforcement, and the County.
“The Chamber would like to work with the County and businesses to help develop a plan and work towards solutions. Together we can address the issues of crime, homelessness and a healthy downtown business core.”
Clark urges the public to report on any criminal activity because it helps the peace officers and RCMP learn about potentially dangerous areas in the community so they can keep a better eye out and help with keeping Lac La Biche streets safe.
“One of the things that our residents need to realize that if they fail to report suspicious occurrences, thefts, break and enters, driving complaints and so on they are putting the community at risk. Also not reporting these types of things and calling the RCMP or peace officers causes a reduction in focused patrols of areas where there may be problems and issues,” said Clark.
The complaint line for the RCMP is 780-623-4380, and the complaint line for the peace officers is 780-623-6767. For emergencies, always make sure to call 911.