Police to beef up downtown patrols

THE RCMP is reviving a downtown patrol aimed at curbing public disorder following complaints made by merchants and others.

THE RCMP is reviving a downtown patrol aimed at curbing public disorder following complaints made by merchants and others.

Speaking at a meeting called by city council May 21, Terrace RCMP detachment commander Inspector Dana Hart said two officers will be dedicated to foot patrols during specific times.

Called a crime reduction unit, the detachment at one time had as many as four officers assigned to downtown duty until they were blended in with regular patrols a year ago.

Although they did patrol on foot, the unit also drove a marked panel van in order to take arrested persons back to the detachment. Bicycle patrols were also used – another thing Hart said he would like to see revived.

Aside from the crime reduction unit, Hart said he has issued a challenge to his officers to spend more time on the ground patrolling the downtown core.

Hart stressed that while overall crime is on the decline in Terrace, “there are people in the downtown area making it difficult for people to go about their business or feel safe going about their business.”

He said that crime is sometimes a matter of perception – for example, large groups of teenagers may appear intimidating to the public, but they are not always up to illegal activity, he said.

“It’s a balancing act,” he added, referencing the need to balance police work with privacy and civil rights.

But an increased watch, with more officers out at targeted peak times, should help to combat the issues downtown – for example, people asking for money near ATMs and being drunk in public, he said, noting that the strategy might cost the detachment more in overtime while it is first implemented, but should save money over time.

He also asked that people call in suspicious activity when they see it, and noted that bringing back a citizens on patrol contingent would be “a huge benefit.”

Councillor James Cordeiro said the activity downtown is the worst he’s ever seen and he welcomes more police.

“Brolly Square seems to be an epicenter of problems,” he said of the public space on the corner of Emerson and Lakelse. “If there’s somebody patrolling through there on a regular basis, people aren’t going to want to congregate there. I understand they’re just going to move off to somewhere else, but hopefully they move out of town.”

He was speaking to the potential out-of-town criminal element moving into town as development increases.

“To me it has to be like, this is not a place to come and be idle and cause trouble and hang out. Another city will be better because in Terrace they don’t tolerate it,” Cordeiro said. “It’s a broad social issue that’s not going to be solved by the RCMP, it’s not going to be solved this summer, or the summer after that. I guess I’m just being pragmatic.”

The issues do go beyond policing, said Hart, and it will take more than just more boots on the ground. “What do we do to address where they can be, what they can be doing?” he said. “That’s not a policing issue… that’s an issue with housing, with community services, with education, health care, addictions.”

Hart added that it is sometimes difficult for officers to do foot patrol downtown because they are out on other calls. Members spend a lot of time on “counselling” calls and dealing with repeat offenders, he said.

And a municipal bylaw officer would go a long way to free up officer time, suggested Hart, an idea council appeared open to considering.