Smithers RCMP Detachment. (Deb Meissner photo)

Council hopefuls discuss crime on the campaign trail

Mayoral and councillor candidates weigh in on the crime in Smithers

A recent uptick in property crime is on a lot of residents’ minds lately as voters will head to the polls in the upcoming municipal election.

Even though recently released crime statistics show crime severity fell in Smithers last year, there has been a recent uptick in break and enter and blatant shoplifting at local merchants in Smithers.

Smithers RCMP Cpl. Elizabeth Irvine said police have noticed a rise in shoplifting, violent confrontations between shoplifters and merchants, and property theft and damage in the last several months.

The RCMP has been giving workshops to give Smithers business owners more information on how to deal with shoplifters and other threats.

The topic of crime in the community has been a hot one on the campaign trail with candidates vowing to do more to help residents feel safe.

Incumbent mayor Gladys Atrill said the recent uptick in thefts and break-ins has resulted in much more frequent communication with RCMP members, particularly with the detachment commander.

“Council has also lobbied for increased resources for the RCMP,” she added. “Currently there are 11 municipally paid for RCMP and six paid for by the Provincial Government. The detachment serves Witset to Telkwa and to Fort Babine plus all of the rural area. While there also are Indigenous members and Highway Patrol, an increase to the local provincial police force is absolutely justified.”

The other person running for the mayor’s seat is Murray Hawse. He said the issue around crime in our community is very concerning and worrisome.

“What has been or is being done is not working. We personally have been affected with our car being broke into at our house and my wallet stolen,” he said, suggesting hat a grassroots task force that includes the RCMP, downtown business owners or representatives, rural residents, council and any other organization or affected group is a good idea.

Hawse also suggested working with other communities in the region.

“The issue of illicit drugs and trafficking is not new to Smithers as most people know. Saying that with all of the above issues and the drug problem, we need to work closely with our partners the RCMP and form a joint task force that should include other municipalities in our area as I am certain they are as concerned as Smithers is.”

The two incumbents running for council, John Buikema and Frank Wray, agreed with Atrill that the town is working on more resources for the RCMP.

“In the past two years, council has approved a staffing increase of two additional full-time municipally-funded RCMP officers in response to a request from the detachment commander,” said Wray. “At the same time, council has petitioned the province to add a provincially funded officer, but to no avail.

“The incoming Council should continue to advocate for this position. In addition, council has a quarterly update from the RCMP and is asked for feedback on the annual detachment work plan. Past work plans have included focusing on prolific and repeat offenders, which has had some success. The next council should advocate for a continued focus on this area, and should also advocate for increased foot and bicycle patrols of the downtown area. Council can also continue to advocate for better mental health and addiction services for our citizens. I have supported all of these measures and will continue to do so if reelected.”

Buikema added that keeping the door open to communication with the RCMP, as well with residents, is important.

“Town council has also had conversations with individuals in our town where interest has been expressed in having an active Citizens on Patrol (COP) once again,” added Buikema. “If this becomes a reality, it would be helpful in deterring crime as COP would become a visible presence during the hours where property crime is often committed. As with so many issues, there are no easy solutions to the concerns about crime expressed by our residents, but town council is definitely not ignoring those concerns, and trying to find solutions where solutions can be found.”

First-time campaigner for council Adam Koch likes the idea of getting the community involved.

“I think the town should support a community watch that could help support the RCMP, especially since they have limited staff here in Smithers,” he said. “Lastly, I think the town council should be in communication with the provincial and federal governments to ensure that small towns are getting the financial support they need for the large increase in homelessness. Increases in crime are happening across the country and it won’t be an easy or quick fix. We need to make sure Smithers gets the necessary support, and to ensure laws are being enforced, and people are getting the help they need.”

Genevieve Paterson, who is also running for one of the six councillor positions thinks longer-term solutions can be looked into.

“Short-term increases in policing will not solve the root cause of pretty crime, linked to mental health and addiction. Council can mitigate the increase of community policing and bylaw enforcement by developing more supportive housing and access to mental health and addiction services.”

Nicholas Briere is also running for a council spot for the first time and he thinks there are two possible solutions to curb the crime in town.

“If we combined RCMP and mental health services to help offer assistance with people that suffer from mental illness and addictions, the result should be less crime in theory,” he said. “As an incentive to business and homeowners I would suggest to town council to have a rebate to help offset the cost of purchasing surveillance equipment and installation for home and business owners of Smithers, similar to the RDBN’s ‘composting rebate’ which could be funded by provincial, federal or private organizations. A review of priorities is essential to ensure municipal taxes are not increased along with a cost-benefit analysis.”

Meanwhile, Calvin Elliott said it is sad most of the break and enters do not result in any sort of criminal proceedings.

“I think the RCMP do a great job in Smithers as far as nonviolent crime is concerned,” he said. “I think we have a good police force, and they are restricted as far as what they can do. It seems there is less appetite to prosecute for some of the nonviolent crimes that take place.”

Jason McCrindle would like to see more police officers in town.

“Staffing seems to have been a bit of an issue throughout the year,” he said. “I hope to see additional dialogue with the Province to ensure they see the need for additional constables. I feel that we need to make sure our RCMP Detachment can be available for 24 hour policing.”

According to another council hopeful, Laura Leonard most crime is derived out of desperation of some sort. “Encouraging development and business with good paying stable employment is a direction we can take at the municipal level,” she said. “People are happiest when they can be productive citizens and are contributing to the community as a whole.”

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