Cop shortage sacks DARE in county

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Morinville’s top cop is pulling the plug on a popular drug awareness program because she’s short on staff.

Acting Staff Sgt. Dale Kendall spoke to county council Tuesday about upcoming changes to the Morinville RCMP.

Kendall said she was currently down about six people – one position was vacant, two would be filled as soon as the officers sold their homes and moved, and three were temporarily empty due to parental and medical leave.

“We absolutely have to be more efficient.”

The detachment was switching to three watches from four as a result, which would mean more police officers would be available at peak times. Kendall said she was also expanding the serious crimes unit.

She will end the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in county-area schools. The popular program has cops talk to students about gangs and drugs.

“DARE is a fantastic program,” Kendall said – one she used to teach herself – but the detachment had just two people qualified to run it, and they can’t reach every student.

“We need to reach out to more children.”

Instead of DARE, the detachment would now have school liaison officers that would visit county schools at least twice a month to speak with students about issues such as traffic safety.

About 100 students a year typically run through DARE at Morinville’s G.H. Primeau Middle School, said principal Allan Menduk.

“It’s a great support to have,” he said, as it taught kids about how to make good decisions in addition to drug and alcohol information.

Menduk said he’d have to hear more about the liaison program before he’d know how the end of DARE would affect his school.

DARE is a valuable program and the county may have to find another way to bring it to schools, said county Mayor Tom Flynn.

“It’s a big concern to us,” he said of this cop shortage.

“They can’t give us the same kind of service they would normally.”

Sturgeon County has a lot of crime relative to its population due to spill-over from nearby cities, Flynn said. County council would lobby the RCMP’s K Division and the federal government to address the shortage.

Property crime frustrates

Statistics presented by Kendall to council suggest that crime was down in Sturgeon so far this year relative to January-July of 2016, with some 690 Criminal Code offences reported compared to 923 last year.

But Kendall acknowledged that the county also had two armed home invasions earlier this summer – ones police hope to soon make arrests in.

“I can assure you that people are going to be held accountable,” she said.

Flynn and Coun. Ferd Caron said that Sturgeon Valley residents were very concerned about these crimes. Coun. Patrick Tighe said he’d heard of many break-ins in his region as well, and that people’s frustration level was “through the roof” as a result.

“I know people are getting homes broken into, but not everybody is reporting it,” Kendall said, noting that she saw many people reporting crimes on Facebook but not telling the RCMP about them.

“If we’re not made aware of it … we simply can’t do anything about it.”

Kendall said she would hold a crime prevention town hall in the Sturgeon Valley region (likely at the local golf club) this Sept. 18 to address these home invasions. Her detachment will also start doing targeted patrols of high-crime areas – a tactic Fort Saskatchewan used to cut its crime rate by about 40 per cent last year.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.