By Trevor Busch
With changes to federal legislation which now allow law enforcement officers to conduct alcohol screening for drivers without cause, Vauxhall town council was interested in what kind of results have so far been witnessed by Taber/Vauxhall RCMP.
During a review of monthly crime and traffic statistics at council’s Feb. 19 meeting, Coun. Kim Cawley inquired about the impact of the new laws.
“Are you finding with the new law with the breathalyzer you’re getting more impaired driving, or having more impaired driving, or not?”
Sgt. Gord Yetman suggested it is still too early to determine if the changes are making an impact on the number of impaired driving charges that RCMP are laying in the region.
“It’s fairly early into it, and as far as impaired drivers go, we don’t appear to be any higher with our numbers than we were last year at the same time. What it does, it’s allowing us to actually — if they are out there and they’re trying to trick us — it does allow us to at least test when we pull them over.”
For Vauxhall in January 2019, officers of the Taber/Vauxhall RCMP detachment dealt with two incidents of impaired driving, three reports under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, one traffic complaint, and one traffic collision.
“I do believe what they were was probably in relation to cannabis,” said Yetman in reference to the CDSA reports. “I would imagine what that was, was either drug intelligence that came in, or in relation to cannabis.”
Officers would also issue four non-moving traffic tickets, and one other provincial Acts/Statutes.
Cawley would press for more detail from Yetman in relation to how law enforcement has been implementing the changes.
“Are you finding you’re doing that fairly frequently? I asked my daughter who lives in Lethbridge, she’s been stopped and given the breathalyzer, I think three or four times.”
Yetman implied detachment officers are taking a blanket approach to this aspect of enforcement that has now been standardized under the Criminal Code, but was careful to suggest this has not represented any significant increase in the average time of a routine traffic stop.
“The way we’re doing it is we’re incorporating it right into the traffic stop obviously. From what I’ve been hearing, it’s not taking a lot longer to do the mandatory alcohol screening as part of the roadside stops. That’s what we’re finding up to this point. But like I said, we’re fairly early into it, so obviously more things will arise, and we’ll adapt as they come up.”
Moving on from statistical analysis, Yetman was seeking a series of priorities from town council about what kind of focus they would like to see from law enforcement in 2019 in their annual performance plan.
“It’s a document that drives our detachment activities throughout the year. This past year we focused on traffic enforcement, crime reduction and crime prevention, and employee wellness. And I believe we also wanted to increase visibility, or something along those lines.”
Mayor Margaret Plumtree outlined what has been a perennial concern for the elected body and the citizens of the community.
“Visibility is always key, because with visibility there’s a reduction in everything. There’s stunting whenever the weather changes.”
Coun. Richard Phillips was blunt in his assessment of the detachment’s performance in relation to traffic enforcement.
“The lack of violation tickets in no way indicates a lack of traffic violations, it’s just lack of people being caught.”
Yetman fell back on a series of mitigating factors that can often impact the numbers in relation to this area of enforcement.
“Well, yes, and I mean, we’re up here for many different reasons, and if we come up here to do an enforcement operation, there’s a lot of factors at play here. If we’re here in a marked vehicle, our chances of catching violators is greatly decreased. It’s the same thing if we’re up here at two or three in the morning, the chance of catching your run-of-the-mill traffic tickets is decreased. You stand a better chance of maybe detecting impaired drivers, but as far as density of traffic, that’s reduced.”
Another key focus for the detachment in 2019 will be implementing crime reduction and crime prevention strategies.
“We’re doing some things from our end right now, we’re trying to establish a rural crime watch for the M.D.,” said Yetman. “Programs like that often have a bit of trickle-down effect as well, or if we catch someone out in the rural area — if we interrupt their criminal activities — chances are they’re not going to commit crimes in the town of Vauxhall, or in Barnwell. It all has a spillover effect. That’s one of the things that we’re going to be looking at, is crime reduction.”
With a rippling rural crime wave undulating across the province in recent years, Plumtree warned that this is beginning to have an insurance impact for many municipalities and their citizens.
“I’ve been hearing from some counties that because crime has gone up so much — not in this area, it’s more northern — that their insurance has gone up. They’ve got extra costs to their insurance because it’s a high crime risk area now. So we want to keep that from happening here to businesses and residents.”
Yetman assured council the detachment — which is currently at full complement — is doing what it can to try to eradicate criminal activity in rural areas.
“Everything that our detachment is doing right now is working towards broader crime prevention, crime reduction strategy. Increased patrols, visits to the schools, traffic enforcement. The bulk of our intelligence we gather comes from things as simple as traffic stops.”
“When you’re talking to people in your community, let them know that if they see anything suspicious, let us know. That’s one number we don’t mind seeing going up, is the number of suspicious persons, because that means that people are phoning in.”