On Friday, the Municipal District of Bonnyville hosted a regional crime forum at the Bonnyville Seniors’ Centre. With over 100 residents in attendance, the forum brought together leaders from the MD, County of St. Paul, Town of Bonnyville, City of Cold Lake; as well as, MLA Dave Hanson and Scott Cyr and MP David Yudiga. RCMP members from both Bonnyville & Cold Lake, as well as Peace Officers from the MD & City of Cold Lake were part of the discussion. Representatives from Bonnyville Policing Committee and the online nighbourhood watch groups were also part of the table. Each dignitary spoke of their experience and goals & thoughts as to how to reduce crime. There was an question period at the end of the forum, which residents were able to voice their concerns, experiences and thoughts.
Reeve, for the MD, Greg Sawchuk, was a driving force behind the forum explains his intentions, “our MD Council is going to be using the information that we collect, along with surveys, to help us define where we’re going to go forward with our intentions.” MD Council had previously voted to put over $200,000 towards a crime prevention program in the area, “from what we get [at the forum], it’ll help us determine where we’re going to focus; whether or not we’re going to be throwing funds at something or increasing our lobbying efforts.” Those lobbying efforts could include asking for stricter penalties for repeat offenders, higher bail costs, longer sentences, and more rehabilitation.
Each speaker identified similar issues with crime and the affects it was having on their communities, business owners and residents. Corporal Ryan Howrish, with the Cold Lake RCMP Detachment took a different stance on the issue, stating you must get to the root of the problem to solve the problem; drugs. “We have meth dealers and now we have meth users. We’re starting to see the property crime that comes along with it.”
“Reducing crime in Alberta cannot be achieved through policing alone,” Cpl Howrish explains, “we need a collaborative, wrap around approach that includes citizens, mental health services and law enforcement to break the cycle of repeat offenders.” Putting it into perspective, “we have a homeless person in Cold Lake, that has a huge meth addiction problem. What it means for this gentleman is he’s committing crimes, he’s stealing and he’s doing B&Es out of necessity. So he may do 20 crimes to support his habit before we catch up and find him. We catch him, we arrest him, we bring him to jail. He goes in front of the Justice of the Peace for property crime and gets released to do more. Time passes and another 20 places get broken into. We now show a pattern and he gets held.” The root of the issue is the addiction, says Cpl. Howrish, “it’s a community problem. This person has severe addictions, he needs mental health services, social services and this is a problem for us all. It’s not just a police problem, we’re trying our hardest; but it is a community problem.”
Many residents spoke during the question period and nearly all repeated the same concern; getting the criminals out of the area and keeping them out. In increasing police presence and increasing sentences; with harsher sentences for repeat offenders.