COLD LAKE - The City of Cold Lake is suiting up against the war on crime, they just need to settle on their plan of attack.
On Tuesday, Feb. 18, council discussed their options when it comes to deterring crime within the city, and debated whether offering an incentive program, installing more lighting, or wiring up video cameras would do the trick.
The topic has shifted to the forefront of the municipality's priorities, after a presentation made on Jan. 8 that filled the council chambers. Local business owner Eleanor Evans, on behalf of city residents, stressed the need for change during her time before council, requesting they begin to brainstorm solutions to crime.
With this fresh in their minds, the municipality tasked administration with coming up with options, some of which were pitched on Tuesday.
CAO Kevin Nagoya noted despite starting the conversation, his recommendation was to wait until after the crime open house at the Lakeland Inn on Feb. 26 to make a decision.
"My advice, regardless of the conversation and feedback from council, is to gather feedback from the public open house and listen to the community for it to come back... maybe with some priorities that council would like to see come out of this agenda topic," he said.
Once they have a better idea of what residents and business owners have to say, it will be back before council for further deliberation.
For the time being, councillors shared their thoughts on some of the strategies suggested by city staff.
"It really becomes a bit of a trying to do a few things differently to see where we can go with this. Unfortunately, when it comes to some of these things, it feels like you can't win... You do some things and when a crime still occurs, you did something and it didn't work. But if you do nothing and something happens, it's 'well you didn't do anything.' My fear when we get into these things is you end up pumping a bunch of money to make things happen, but to what end? Is it actually going to make a difference or is it just going make you feel better?" expressed Coun. Chris Vining.
One of the strategies favoured by council was creating an incentive program that would have residents and businesses receive a rebate for implementing better security measures, such as doorbell cameras, video surveillance, and security systems, among others.
Nagoya explained, "Some communities are currently doing incentive programs for green initiatives... There are municipalities that are already doing this with programs that are at a municipal-level. We don't do anything on the green-end mind you... but I'm saying from a crime perspective, maybe there's a way you can incentivize people to be ready for that type of activity, and incentivizing enhancements to your buildings or video surveillance and being able to have that information uploaded to a municipal server so it's captured on our side for RCMP and police enforcement... Your community can start populating and helping you and feeling like they're assisting law enforcement."
"I think as a council and a community we need to come up with some solutions for crime reduction and prevention. I like the idea of incentivizing for certain actions. The payback for a community is pretty significant," exclaimed Coun. Bob Buckle.
By having "eyes on Cold Lake," the city is hopeful it will push crime out of the area.
"You're going to increase surveillance and the visibility of detection around the community, and you're known to 100 per cent support an initiative that will promote that. Over time it will have quite an impact," continued Buckle.
Council has also considered installing video surveillance at major intersections and crime hot spots.
Buckle, who is a former RCMP officer, said having video footage during a criminal investigation could be key to cracking the case.
"You have something to go back to, to try and clear the file," he explained.
Vining felt city peace officers could be put to better use.
"There are probably some opportunities to go later in the day or into the evenings, or even late at night to do more active patrolling in some of these high-impact areas where we know we have some habitual things happening," he noted.
"We could change some of their priorities, say from traffic violations, speeding, and school zones, more to doing patrols," added Mayor Craig Copeland.
When it came to getting more "boots on the ground," whether that be through hiring a private security company or additional RCMP officers, Buckle wasn't sure it was the answer to their problem.
"St. Paul does the security piece... I have heard some feedback, but not from the actual Town of St. Paul, I've just heard some feedback that the challenge with having a security company is that the first phone call made is to the RCMP. The crime just shifts to a different location anyways," stated Nagoya. "Is it doing some things? Probably, because the crime isn't happening right in front of the security guy to phone, they move around and that makes it a little more challenging, but it's happening nonetheless."
Buckle stressed that the issue isn't the number of police officers on duty, it's the catch and release mentality of the criminal justice system.
"I think when you get into that deterrence aspect of it, the so-called catch and release or revolving door is a pretty difficult issue for a community. It's not a municipal responsibility," he continued. “That’s way bigger than anything we can deal with, what we can deal with is improve lighting, making sure there's cameras and video out there for police tools so they can nab these people, and hopefully deter them because they're going to be seen. That's in our sandbox to work with and I think that's where we need to focus."
Vining reminded council that "Cold Lake isn't unique," when it comes to crime.
"We're right there with everybody else. Everyone else is having the same conversations, and I'm not saying that just because it's everyone else we don't do anything, but I think we need to be a little bit careful on how we deploy our resources, that's all."
These strategies and others will be included in the city's crime open house hosted in collaboration with local RCMP on Feb. 26.