OLDS — Two concerns dominated an RCMP town hall meeting held via Zoom the night of Oct. 14: theft and police response to those crimes, plus a call for police to be more visible in the community.
Staff Sgt. Warren Wright, the commanding officer of Olds RCMP, hosted the meeting. Fourteen people – mostly members of Olds town council or the Olds Policing Advisory Committee -- attended the 90-minute event.
One resident, Kevin, complained that about a month ago, his truck was stolen. That marked second time in five months that a thief or thieves had attempted to steal it. They were unsuccessful the first time.
“It’s very frustrating, because after the first time, I put a security system in it at hundreds of dollars of cost to me and it didn’t do a thing. And the feeling I get is that if they want this, they’re just going to steal, and there’s nothing we can do about it," Kevin said.
“When I talk to the police, it’s the same thing. You talk to mechanics, everybody else.”
Wright said with the help of neighbouring police detachments, RCMP are pretty successful in catching thieves.
The problem he said, is much of that theft is spurred by drug addiction and the justice system doesn’t seem to hold these people for long, so they're out quickly -- perhaps even immediately -- whereupon they create more crime.
He said more agencies with other expertise need to be involved in tackling the problem besides police.
Mayor Michael Muzychka and others on the Zoom call asked what can be done to solve that problem.
Wright recommended lobbying Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Nathan Cooper and perhaps Alberta Solicitor General Kaycee Madu and Red Deer-Mountain View MP Earl Dreeshen on the federal side.
Wright also recommended that people theft-proof their vehicles and other property as much as possible by securing vehicles in garages and installing proper area lighting and motion-sensitive cameras.
He said one of his sons had his truck stolen. After that, Wright bought anti-theft devices which seem to have deterred further thefts.
Councillors Wanda Blatz and Mary Anne Overwater said many residents have complained that police don’t seem to show much sympathy or even show up to investigate when they report thefts.
Blatz said a theft that occurred at the business she and her husband operate is a case in point.
"People just need the reassurance that there’s actually somebody looking into the situation. And that's all we ask,” Blatz said. “Everybody’s angry about everything right now and the littlest things are compounding.”
“They feel violated, is what they feel. Because somebody has taken their stuff or broken into their residence or whatever and they actually feel very violated,” Overwater said.
"In my opinion, each incident has to be dealt with with the same courtesy and respect for each resident, even though I know the RCMP, they’ve heard it, like 16,000 times, whether ‘my truck was stolen,’ ‘my shed was broken into’ or something like that.”
Wright sympathized, noting he too is a town resident and would certainly feel violated if he was the victim of theft or a break-in.
He urged anyone who has complained about a crime that’s occurred to them to contact him personally if they feel it hasn’t been dealt with properly.
Blatz and Coun. Heather Ryan suggested making the police more visible, especially via foot or bike patrols in areas like Uptowne Cornerstone or in the parking lots of major retailers. They believe that would likely help deter crime and certainly make citizens feel safer.
Wright agreed, saying his goal is to see police out on mountain bikes more frequently as well, but said lately, due to COVID, mountain bike training for detachment members hasn’t happened, and they can’t go out on bikes without taking that training. He said he hopes that training will occur after COVID dissipates.
“I’m a champion of visibility,” he said.
Those on the call also look forward to seeing more patrols by Citizens On Patrol.
Wright was disappointed by the number of people on the Zoom call.
He’s hopeful more people will participate next year when other town halls are held. He's hoping they can be held in person, rather than by Zoom, and that the fact they’re in person would spur greater participation by the public.