Yellowknife RCMP held fewer prisoners in cells and saw a drop in public and social disturbance calls last year compared to 2017 – a trend the detachment’s top cop credits to partnerships with community outreach groups and integrated case workers.
“We are seeing results. I believe the public is seeing the results. Our vulnerable individuals are feeling the results,” stated Insp. Alex Laporte, officer in command at the Yellowknife detachment.
Mounties, according to new figures released earlier this week, held 937 fewer prisoners in cells last year, a 34 per cent decrease from 2017. Last month, 170 prisoners were held in RCMP cells, a decline from the 204 prisoners recorded in December of 2017.
RCMP responded to 25 per cent fewer calls related to Liquor Act offences, and fielded 3,917 service calls last year for “causing a disturbance/mischief, including public intoxication,” compared to 4,143 calls in 2017.
Overall, according to a monthly report submitted by Laporte to Yellowknife City Council on Monday, Mounties in the capital responded to 600 fewer calls for “social disorder occurrences,” in 2018 versus the previous year.
That’s a 35 per cent drop from 2015, according to RCMP.
Laporte credited the GNWT’s Integrated Case Management program, an initiative that matches case workers or “pathfinders” with people who frequently use police services, based on referrals from government departments including health, income assistance, housing, legal aid and substance abuse treatment.
The number of service calls to RCMP regarding five individuals — identified as “high users of police services” in the report – plummeted during the last three months of 2018, amounting to a 42 per cent drop from the same quarter in 2017. Between the same period, the presence of those five individuals in RCMP cells dropped 50 per cent, according to the report.
“The collaborative efforts that we have seen in Yellowknife are directly contributing to our community well-being, and opportunities for people to address their challenges and overcome trauma,” stated Laporte.
He said initiatives including Common Ground, the recently opened Sobering/Day Shelter, Housing First, and Street Outreach – helmed by the Yellowknife Women’s Society and funded by the city – are making a difference by promoting “well-being, trust, stability and access to services,” while keeping people out of cells and getting them the help and care they need.
Street Outreach, launched in 2017, helps intoxicated or vulnerable people get off the street and into the Sobering Centre, using a marked van to scan the streets and pick up people in need.
RCMP partnered with the program in a bid to address high users of police services – often arrested and held in cells for minor alcohol or public disturbance offences, tying up police resources in the process – in a new, different way.
RCMP members are now “redirecting clients to various social initiatives,” instead of directing them to jail cells, with “positive results,” according to Laporte.
“These social initiatives are now offering some of the support required for a healthier community, and (they have) positively impacted our services,” he added.
‘Funding has to be there’
Lydia Bardak, a community advocate who has worked with the city’s homeless for decades, told Yellowknifer she’s encouraged by the new statistics.
Bardak said the RCMP’s new approach is a refreshing turn compared to previous strategies that crowded jail cells and clogged the court system.
Ten years ago, Bardak said the detachment’s crime reduction strategy was to lay charges as often as they could against frequent users of police services – with the thinking they’d be pushed into getting help.
“At the time, I was starting to get calls from individuals saying, ‘well, where is the help? I’ve been in jail for a month and I’m not getting any help,’” said Bardak.
Trials were set for minor offences, and, at the time, it wasn’t uncommon to see 30-plus people lined up at Justice of the Peace Court, answering to liquor charges.
“Having seen the crime reduction strategy twice before in my time here, it’s really, really great to see the RCMP working with the community,” said Bardak. “Because they don’t have the answer to everything. They have the answer to crime, but not to mental health, not to addiction issues,” said Bardak, adding she “couldn’t be happier” with the positive trends.
A positive trend, she said, that can be maintained through continued support for community agencies.
“The funding has to be there to make sure places like the Sobering Centre can continue, so that Street Outreach can continue.”
Laporte said the force is dedicated to maintaining positive results.
“A lot of work remains to be done and we remain committed to our collaboration with our community.”