BOWDEN — The size of the crowd that came out to an RCMP town hall meeting on crime surprised and pleased Olds RCMP detachment commanding officer Staff Sgt. Warren Wright.
About 35 people attended the event, held the evening of Jan. 25 at the Friendship Club. That’s more than four times the number that came out to a similar event roughly a year ago.
Eight people attended a meeting at that same facility on Jan. 26, 2022, including three town council representatives and the news media.
So many showed up this time that a second set of chairs was set out in a semi-circle behind the original chairs that had been set out in a giant circle.
“I was thrilled that we had such a great turnout,” Wright said during an interview with the Albertan.
Bowden mayor Robb Stuart said this year a push was made to get more people to attend – and it worked.
In addition to Wright, others attending included Olds RCMP Sgt. Greg Beach, Chinook Arch Victim Services program manager Rhonda Kearns, Red Deer County peace officer Levi Simcoe and Stuart, as well as several town councillors.
The meeting lasted the two full hours scheduled, about half an hour longer than the 2022 edition.
Concerns brought up included theft of gas and a perception that police aren’t in Bowden frequently enough and take too long to respond to calls.
Wright and Beach said despite what Bowden residents might feel, the level of crime in the community is far lower than in many other communities in the province.
One man related three incidents of gas being stolen from vehicles.
He said after gas was stolen from his vehicle, he and a local woman switched parking spaces for their vehicles. Gas was then stolen from her vehicle. Gas was then stolen from his vehicle again.
Wright said crimes that do occur in Bowden are often perpetrated by criminals moving in and out of town quickly, via the Queen Elizabeth II Highway.
"Yes, there are some local people that we’re aware of in town, but I would say what’s happening to you (such as the gas thefts), they’re from out of town,” he said.
“I’m 99 per cent they’re from out of town in terms of them coming in and using your vehicle as a fuel pump.”
Residents were encouraged to take action to crime-proof their homes and surrounding properties.
Wright pledged to meet with a local property manager to discuss ways to cut down on or prevent crime.
Ideas suggested by meeting participants included installing doorbell cameras – even fake surveillance cameras -- or going online to check out videos on how to crime-proof homes and property.
Meeting participants were told that crime statistics for the community are presented to council every three months (the next batch is coming up soon), that copies can be obtained at the town office and may soon be made available online.
As for the response time to crimes in Bowden, Wright said it’s pretty quick when you consider the response time at a previous detachment he worked at was about 90 minutes.
Wright said residents can help police by reporting incidents. He said too often people in online groups or forums like those on Facebook chat with each other about criminal activity but none of them report their concerns to police.
One resident said he felt like organizing a posse to go after criminals.
Wright and Beach strongly recommended against that or any other sort of vigilante action.
Wright noted that a Mountain View County town hall on crime was held Jan. 24 at the East Olds Baptist Church near Reed Ranch School.
He said during that meeting, the question came up whether residents should follow alleged criminals.
Wright and Beach recommended strongly against that.
“They’re probably on drugs, they’re probably in a stolen vehicle, they probably have weapons, they probably will hurt you, run over you, kill you to get away, so don’t do that,” Wright said.
The issue of catalytic converter thefts came up. Thieves cut them out of vehicles because they contain valuable precious metals that can be sold for good money.
It was noted that one way of possibly deterring those thefts – or at least perhaps getting stolen converters back -- is to have serial numbers etched into them.
Wright recommended that residents buy smart key tags which are made for iPhones or Android devices and can enable people to keep track of everything from luggage to keys.
Simcoe said Red Deer County peace officers don’t have many calls for service in Bowden.
They’re hired by the town and generally spend about 10 hours a month in the community.
“Our calls for service in this area, we have next to nothing,” he said. “About two per cent of our call volume is from Bowden. “That’s roughly 14 calls in total and most of that is abandoned vehicles.”
So when they come to Bowden, peace officers spend most of their time cruising the town, especially in school zones.
That’s where they do find some action.
“It’s not uncommon to get people doing 70 kilometres an hour in that 30 kilometres per hour zone, even with kids in that playground. They just forget or they don’t see them; that kind of thing,” Simcoe said.
Stuart confirmed Simcoe’s estimate of time spent in the town by peace officers but said that figure may soon be increased.
Kearns explained how Chinook Victim Services works in tandem with police to console and support victims of crime.
One meeting participant echoed that point, saying years after a family member was killed in an accident, she still receives support.
Coun. Wayne Milaney praised police and peace officers for their work.
“I think that RCMP and peace officers in the county and the town of Bowden are doing a kick-ass job taking care of us, so I just wanted to say thanks,” he said, sparking applause.
“Thank you, appreciate that,” Wright said.
One woman asked for a comment on the provincial government’s idea to replace RCMP with a provincial police force.
Wright said as an RCMP officer, he can’t do that.
After the meeting, the Albertan asked Wright for his thoughts on how it went.
“I think the questions were excellent,” he said. “I think it was a fair representation of what’s on the local community’s mind and we did our best to answer them.”