On Tuesday night, Coalhurst residents brought their concerns and questions to municipal law enforcement during a Town of Coalhurst Community Safety meeting.
One of the driving forces behind the meeting was the community’s frustration with the increasing drug situation.
“The community is fed up with these properties that everyone knows is a flop house for criminals who are using drugs or are safe havens of stolen property there and the perception being that the police aren’t doing anything to address the property,” Coaldale Picture Butte RCMP Sargent David Marenette says. “Our biggest challenge as police in this case is getting the grounds to get on the property. It’s great that we all know what is going on there, but the difference between us knowing and telling a judge on paper we know that is going on.”
Other frustrations voiced by community members during the forum were the wait times and delays that happen when reporting incidents to the RCMP non-emergency line. One resident said not only can you be on hold on the phone for up to an hour, but getting a statement to officers can also be an issue with detachment hours in the community being the same hours many people are working.
Mayor Lyndsay Montina says some of these issues are concerns town council can bring forward to provincial leaders and upper levels of the RCMP in the future.
“I think it is using our voices as mayor and council – letting them know this is a problem and essentially asking what are you going to do to address this.”
Different community-led initiatives, including Alberta Rural Crime Watch and Alberta Citizens on Patrol, were presented to those in attendance Tuesday night as options to help address the issues the community is seeing. Montina says the idea is to deal with the concerns from a multi-pronged approach with the RCMP and Community Peace Officer already in use; the next option is what the community can do to help ensure everyone is safe.
“We are in a smallish community still, and we know that everyone wants their neighbours to be safe. My hope is that the residents got the information that they needed so that they can start one of those programs if they want to, or even just having more information for themselves as to how to keep themselves and their neighbours safe.”
Sargent Marenette adds that even with the community’s frustration, residents need to continue reporting crimes to the RCMP.
“If it doesn’t get reported, then nothing for sure is going to get done. We need to keep having those reports. It is how we strategically [decide] where we will send our resources, and so if you don’t report, then you aren’t going to get those resources.”
In some cases, the RCMP can look to the Lethbridge Police Service for support when dealing with some of the more serious violent crimes in the region, with Marenette explaining the local detachment at times will look to the municipal force for extra support or resources for things such as search warrants and LPS will at times do the same.
“A lot of the [suspects] are either from Lethbridge or return to Lethbridge, so to be able to work with LPS or for LPS to work with us is absolutely vital to accomplish anything.”
Marenette and Montina say it is important for the community to work together to deal with these concerns moving forward.