Progress from the police

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Statistics tell us that crime rates are disproportionately high in the Northwest Territories.The jurisdiction has the second highest violent crime rate and the highest property crime rate in the country.

There can be little wonder why the MacDonald-Laurier Institute gave the territory’s criminal justice system a failing grade in its latest report.

The cost of public safety per person in the territory, the cost of corrections per capita and the average daily inmate cost is second only to Nunavut.

The fuel for these statistics is myriad but it’s becoming increasingly obvious that many of the solutions lie in the social justice system and not the criminal justice system.

Governments, including the local RCMP detachment, are slowly embracing this notion.

Last year, the city began funding a street outreach program that provides transportation to the sobering centre or other safe spaces to intoxicated people in need.

In addition, under the leadership of Insp. Matt Peggs, the previous detachment commander of the Yellowknife RCMP, police and the city’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) partnered with the Integrated Case Management Program of the Department of Justice to create a program called Pathfinders to deal with the usual suspects of downtown disorder.

The program focused on the top 15 individuals who were generating the most complaints and referred them to case workers who are now helping them receive social services.

These transient or homeless individuals had become a serious drain on resources. They were the constant subjects of police complaints but they were not hardened criminals – just victims of poverty and addiction.

And these concerted efforts to stop treating victims of poverty and addiction like criminals seems to be paying dividends.

From 2016 to 2017, Yellowknife RCMP received fewer reports of mischief and public intoxication and the incarceration rate at the local detachment decreased.

Calls for service fell by 14 per cent, Liquor Act offences dropped by about 18 per cent and mischief offences were down about nine per cent.

This freed up valuable police resources, which are being used to fight real crime. In April, Peggs was pleased to point to a 41 per cent increase in impaired driving charges. The increase was not attributed to a greater number of people getting behind the wheel while intoxicated but rather because officers had more time to look for drunk drivers.

Hopefully police will continue to put these liberated resources to good use. Insp. Alexandre Laporte, the Yellowknife RCMP’s new detachment commander, appears to want to build on these gains.

He told Yellowknifer he wants to increase police visibility downtown, including more foot patrols, step up enforcement against drugs and gangs and keep up with the creative ways the police have been dealing with frequent detainees.

We congratulate him on his promotion and wish him well.

Under his leadership, we hope for humane, compassionate and culturally fluent cops who have a mindset of respect and who will serve long enough to know people’s names and help improve the community.

We’re happy for his enthusiasm but point out, alas, we’ve become a bit jaded around here.

From our experience rank and file officers are often reluctant to get out of their patrol trucks and conduct foot patrols. This is somewhat understandable during winter but unfortunately, from our observation, flat-footed officers are no less rare during summer.

Hopefully Laporte can change that.