While Airdrie has experienced a reduction in property crime this year, crime against individuals has increased, according to RCMP – and local officers are seeing more weapons and violent behaviour.
“A very concerning trend for myself as a detachment commander is the increase in offences against police, and an increase in violence in general with suspects,” said Insp. Kimberley Pasloske during a presentation to Airdrie City council at a regular meeting Nov. 4.
Five local RCMP members have been injured in the last year, she noted, and assaults against police officers has doubled over the last five years. In Airdrie, officers have experienced four rammings since September 2018.
“The ramming of police vehicles increased 420 per cent over the last five years – from 15 [cases] to 63,” she said. “It’s quite significant. We’re trying to get a handle on it, but this is something we are facing in the community.”
The behaviour is not specific to Airdrie, she added. A province-wide five-year analysis indicated while the frequency of violence against police officers has increased marginally, the severity of these interactions was increasing dramatically. According to Pasloske, this is likely because RCMP is finding more weapons on the street.
Since 2014, the presence of weapons in southern Alberta has increased 15 per cent, and the number of stolen firearms has gone up 27 per cent. Pasloske said RCMP is “seeing those weapons all over the place.”
“In Airdrie alone, as you know, [we saw] the CrossIron event, which was near here, we had a homicide involving a firearm, we had a carjacking involving a firearm and we had a robbery involving a firearm – that’s all in the last month,” she said. “That didn’t happen, years ago.”
When asked by Deputy Mayor Candice Kolson how these statistics compare to the rest of the country, Pasloske said Alberta is seeing a more significant increase in firearms and violence against police.
Persons crime has also increased in Alberta, according to Pasloske. In Airdrie, this type of crime (which includes robberies, sexual assaults and harassment) has increased 37 per cent since 2014, with a 10 per cent jump in the past year alone. Airdrie has seen a reduction in robberies, she said, and while criminal harassment has increased by 55 per cent, this number can be partially attributed to a change in how these crimes are scored.
“Harassing communications” now includes messages received via apps, texts, emails, phone calls and other forms of online bullying, she added – methods of targeting individuals that were not previously captured. Still, Pasloske said, technology is also partly to blame.
“My 14-year-old has a phone, whereas five years, 10 years ago, maybe that wasn’t the case,” she said, adding, “People are stronger behind their screen, behind their phone, and they say mean things that they won’t say to their face.”
Airdrie has also experienced a dramatic increase in sexual assaults – “considerably more” than in surrounding areas, Pasloske noted. Across the Southern Alberta district, an increase of 142 per cent has been recorded, which she said is primarily due to societal awareness and an increase in reporting.
In Airdrie, however, the number of sexual assaults has jumped 293 per cent since 2014 – 22 per cent just in the last year.
“Our number of incidences of domestic sexual assaults has increased quite significantly, from five in 2014 to now 13 in 2019,” Pasloske said. “That is a considerable increase.”
Part of this spike is also due to awareness, she noted, thanks to additional member training regarding sexual assault.
“When I was first a member, there wasn’t really a thing of sexual assaults in a domestic relationship. Now, we are recognizing that there is,” she said. “That’s really about member awareness and training, as well as the diligence of our domestic violence unit to ensure that these offenses are properly scored and properly addressed.”
Property crime in Airdrie, which was identified as a priority for this year, according to Pasloske, has dropped by 13 per cent, overall – lower than each of the last five years. This type of crime includes break and enter, theft of motor vehicle, possession of stolen property, fraud, arson and mischief.
“Property crime is our biggest type of crime in Airdrie. To have a reduction in this type of crime is hugely important for us. It is what we’ve been focusing on, it is what the community wants us to be focusing on, and I think that this is quite significant,” she said. “I call this a success story.”
The six-member enforcement team with Airdrie RCMP’s Crime Reduction Unit has laid 383 charges and executed 67 arrest warrants this year, Pasloske said, recovering more than $325,000 in stolen property and $30,000 in drugs.
Another success for the detachment has been the development of partnerships with community groups to engage people who are committing crimes due to mental health or addictions issues, she said, which, since April of this year, has resulted in 154 direct client interventions, 37 triage meetings and 18 mental health diversions.
Internally, mental health has been a priority, as well – according to Pasloske, the detachment has seen “significant success” when it comes to addressing the well-being of its employees.
“As we know, first responders, they do deal with situations and events that are disturbing, so we’re taking care of our members in a ton of different ways,” she said.
However, finding municipal funding to support this has been a challenge, Pasloske added. Currently, the City pays for 67 established RCMP positions, all of which are filled. But the municipality does not pay for maternity or paternity leave, those who are off-duty due to illness or injury for more than 30 days, or for members who work less than 32 hours or less than their full-duty description when they resume their post.
As a result, she said, the City is only paying for 56.13 full-duty members.
Another issue for the detachment is community engagement. While RCMP prioritized this last year and introduced a number of initiatives to work more closely with residents – like Mochas with Mounties, school presentations and positive ticketing programs – Pasloske said Airdronians still have misconceptions about local crime.
“We are seeing a reduction in property crime and domestic violence in the community, but the community is not feeling it,” she said. “You see on social media all the time – the community really feels we are in a crisis of property crimes. We really need to do something about engaging our community…to really address their feelings of security.”
Council has been asked to provide input into next year’s priorities, which will be discussed at an upcoming meeting of the Municipal Police Advisory Board.
“Safety is a key priority for our City – we live in a safe place, but we’ve had some unfortunate incidents over time,” said Mayor Peter Brown. “I’m really concerned about the aggression to our police officers and their safety…. But there’s lots of successes, as you’ve shown here tonight.”