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Monday , 19 October 2020

More options needed for vagrancy response in St. Paul

St. Paul RCMP Staff Sgt. David Graham responded to concerns about crime in a discussion with Town of St. Paul council at the committee of the whole meeting Sept. 17.

Topics included RCMP awareness of security cameras around town, and the challenges presented by social issues such as homelessness.

Coun. Ron Boisvert asked about hiring a private security company to conduct patrols and be extra eyes in the community as the town has done in the past.

“Eyes are never bad,” said Graham. “To me, Citizens on Patrol can be just as effective. We just need people that want to be part of it.”

He said that while a marked security vehicle doing patrols could certainly deter crime, it was only helpful to a point. “When they see a marked vehicle, us or a security company, it may stop them from committing a crime, but they may just wait until we’re past.”

Anecdotally, Graham said the thing he remembered getting called about when the town had hired the security company was people sleeping at ATMs and bank foyers.

“We go out, we push them along, and probably they come back 20 minutes later. It’s -30 and I don’t have anywhere to take those guys that are sleeping in those ATM vestibules, so I’d rather wait until morning and then have them pushed out,” said Graham.

Coun. Nathan Taylor asked what the town can do to add value to Citizens on Patrol or the police in “situations that aren’t necessarily criminal but could lead to criminal or potential disruption? What do you need for that person?”

“In a perfect world I would love to see a place that we can take some of these guys to for the night where they have a mat program so that they can sleep somewhere,” said Graham.

“It’s not a solution to the issue, but it’s something that gives us an option. Because if they’re intoxicated yes, we can take them to cells and make sure they have a safe place at night. But if it’s -30 outside and they’re not intoxicated, there’s really limited options. They’re not really committing a crime,” said Graham.

More education needed

Graham said that while he recognizes the level of frustration in the community over property crime, there needs to be more education about the consequences of not locking doors and the importance of reporting crime when it does happen.

“At the end of the day, as a citizen, there’s an onus on me to do my part to reduce the likelihood of crime as well…You’re going to tell me you’ve been broken into umpteen times, but I have two files. So how am I supposed to investigate things that you don’t want to report to us?”

The RCMP have a crime mapping tool they use to track crime in the community. According to Graham, there’s nothing that stands out on the map to suggest one area is worse off than others.

He said over the past 30 days, the worst area has been 50th Ave but noted there are several “concerning” houses in the town that the RCMP is trying to focus on as well.

“They’re the ones committing probably 90 per cent of the crime. So that is one of our things is to be visible with them, let them know we’re out,” said Graham.

“Legally we can’t stop someone at 3 a.m. that’s walking down the street with a backpack. I can’t demand their ID, I can’t search them, I can’t do anything like that. But I can let them know that I’m in the area and that I’m present, and that I’m driving around. That’s one of the things we’re trying to push is be visible in those areas with crime, but also around those residences that we know criminals seem to congregate around.”

Surveillance registry off to a good start

Another ongoing initiative is a database of which businesses and homes in the community have surveillance cameras. According to Graham it saves the RCMP time when they are doing an investigation because instead of knocking on every single door to ask if the cameras exist, they can directly contact the people they know have them.

While the database is still quite limited, he said they had a couple dozen responses in the first few days since making the request.

“Surveillance video has been huge for us to solve a number of crimes, especially ones where it’s been one of our prolific guys and we can tell by tattoos on their faces, sometimes by their gait, the way they walk, by hairstyle, by a number of things. So I think if we can keep pushing this and keep getting more people added it can be valuable to the point of actually helping solve some crimes down the road,” said Graham.

At the Sept. 14 town council meeting, the Town of St. Paul approved up to $2,500 for the cost of hosting a telephone town hall with the RCMP in early October.

The date of the town hall has not yet been set.

About Meredith Kerr

Meredith Kerr moved to St. Paul for a career in journalism and morning radio in 2014 expecting to stay for six months to a year. Since then, she has put down roots in the form of a husband, a mortgage, two babies, and a poorly behaved dog. She continues to work as a reporter until such time as she finishes her book and becomes fabulously wealthy from the royalties. Meredith also serves as a member at large on the St. Paul Library Board and volunteers as a Beaver leader for the 1st St. Paul Scout Group.