Just about every council in Wellington County was relieved to learn that Centre Wellington had more police occurrences than their own communities – but even Centre Wellington politicians were pleased with the annual OPP report this year.
Centre Wellington is the largest municipality by far in Wellington County, but the number of occurrences there in 2008 was actually slightly less than in 2007. There were 6,236 occurrences last year, and 6,283 the previous year.
Acting Staff Sergeant MaryLouise Kearns told council that in a number of areas, occurrences are dropping.
Assault charges went from 102 in 2007 to 95 last year. Other offences listed in crimes against persons dropped from 43 to 33.
However, the number of threats increased from 31 to 42, and domestic disturbances went up from 80 to 104 occurrences. Kearns said that is not actually all that bad, and suggested that squabbling family members are doing more yelling than committing assaults.
Break-and-enters were down to 66 from 77, but Kearns noted there was some fear in Elora the past few months because of a dinnertime bandit who was breaking into house in mid-day. She said good work by a young Wellington OPP officer helped lead to an arrest by Waterloo Regional Police a few weeks ago.
In other crimes against property, she noted that fraud, mischief, motor vehicle thefts, and thefts under $5,000 had all dropped by a small amount.
Liquor and drug offences increased by seven from 2007 to last year, and sudden deaths went from 15 to 21.
The number of alarms was up, and so was the number of missing persons. Kearns said of the latter there is no one that the county OPP is currently seeking, and many of those occurrences are youth in foster homes or young people not getting along at home.
The number of 9-1-1 calls that were not emergencies went from 350 down to 295. Traffic complaints fell from 445 to 434.
Kearns said police like to be called about suspicious behavior or people acting strangely, and said officers investigate all of those calls. She said even hang-up 9-1-1 calls get investigated.
The number of accidents serious enough to be reported dropped slightly, but the property damage increased slightly.
There was a sharp drop in personal injury accidents from 73 to 45, and one fatal accident in the community.
The number of people injured in accidents in Centre Wellington went from 98 to 65. Kearns noted that the number of accidents involving alcohol tripled, from 5 to 15.
Councillor Fred Morris asked if there is any organized crime in the community.
Kearns said there is. She cited illegal tobacco sales as well as drug dealing as crimes she considers to be part of organized crime. She also noted that with a major highway going through the community, there is organized crime using Highway 6.
She added that with Elora a tourist destination and Fergus hosting two major festivals “there is a lot of traffic through this area.”
Councillor Bob Foster said there are a large number of bars and restaurants selling alcohol in the community, and he wondered what the effect of the new drinking and driving legislation will have for waiters and bartenders.
“Beyond the charges, there’s a huge liability,” Foster said.
Kearns said if someone became involved in a fatal accident, police would trace his previous 24 hours or more, and learn if he had been drinking.
Foster said some people could blow over the legal limit now set at 0.05mgs per 100ml of blood in the system, which used to be a warning and 12 hour licence suspension. It now costs people their driver’s licence for three days.
Kearns said it depends on the drinker, and some people can have three drinks in an hour and not blow over.
But, she said, a driver involved in a fatal crash even noted to have alcohol on his breath will hear about it in court, whether intoxicated or not.
She said for waiters and bartenders, “Nothing has changed.” The new legislation will not have any more effect on them then it did before the changes.
Kearns said some people are unhappy about the new law, but “We’re all adults. Driving is a privilege, not a right. There is no excuse [for drinking and driving] in this day and age – especially in this community, with taxis.”
But Foster said, “I’m concluding if you go to the pub and have more than one drink, you shouldn’t drive.”
Kearns said in answer to a question from councilor Shawn Watters that homeowners who serve people too much alcohol are just as liable for their driving behavior as waiters and bartenders are.
She noted that while Centre Wellington has the highest occurrence rate in the county, “You guys have been the most inquisitive.”
She said in answer to a question from Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj that there are several ways property owners, especially seniors, can protect themselves from crime. She said being a good neighbour and phoning police when people see problems is a great way to keep crime down. So is watching a property while the neighbours are away. She added that good lighting is also a big help.
Finally, Kearns said, many crimes are called crimes of opportunity.
She said keeping goods out of sight, even when cars are locked, will help lower crime rates.
She added that paying attention to traffic can help people spot strange cars in the neighbourhood, and police can investigate them if they are called.
“Take care of each other,” she said.