OPP Inspector: violent crime, assaults down in Centre Wellington

Wellington OPP Inspector Scott Smith had some good News for councillors here when he made his annual visit and report.

He said things have gone “fairly well” in the township in 2010.

Violent crime dropped from a three year average of 144 reported incidents a year to 122 last year. Assaults were down to 57 from an average of 67, but sexual assault climbed from a three year average of nine to 10.

Smith said he was unhappy robberies climbed last year, from a three year average of seven to 10. He said that statistic was “significant across the county,” and many of those robberies were taking place outside licensed establishments after the bars closed.

He said they included things like cell phone thefts and added the OPP has placed those locations under tougher scrutiny with more patrols, and has consequently been laying more liquor charges.

When it comes to property crime such as mischief, Smith said Fergus was constant with 308 offences (the three year average being 327). In Elora, that dropped from the average of 111 a year to 105 last year.

He joked that when it comes to mischief crimes like battering mailboxes, “We try to blame the snow plows, but it doesn’t work in July and August.”

He said there was a problem of thefts from vehicles, but police targeted some suspects and after arrests were made, those slowed down quickly.

Smith said the number of domestic incidents has increased. The three year average in Wellington County was 294, and last year there were 327 such incidents. In Fergus it increased to 61 from an average of 54, and in Elora it dropped slightly to 10 from 12.

Smith said the economy is likely to blame for that increase, because police noticed as the economy worsened, there were more verbal disputes and police were called more often.

Smith said the OPP is working to cut down on crime by targeting the causes of it. That includes eliminating opportunity and discouraging those who are in an area with criminal intent.

He said programs like Neighbourhood Watch help deter crime, and he is pleased Centre Wellington once again has a community oriented policing (COPs) committee running. He added that it could use a few more volunteers.

Smith said it is important to mitigate the risks for crime happening, particularly for youths.

He said the COPs agenda for now is to help prevent crime through community engagement, and he hopes to involve council. He said citizens often know more about what is going on in the community than police, and that knowledge is useful. He said he has been an officer too long to be surprised at what he has heard goes on in some alleys in Fergus, but added that it might just be a case of needing better lighting in those areas.

He said police constantly hear that there is a need for youth activities, but that is not the OPP’s mandate. Other groups in the community will have to supply those activities. He noted there are more calls to police lately where single mothers are unable to convince their children to go to school.

He said that takes place Monday to Friday, and, “That’s discouraging that teens are acting violently towards their parents.”

Smith repeated, as he had the previous year, there is a serious need for mental health services. He said inviting such service providers to the COPs might be one way to ensure they are providing services for which they are funded.

He added it is time to promote services to combat drugs and alcohol.

Smith said Drug Awareness Guelph Wellington is working, and is starting a group in Mount Forest, but there is nobody in Centre Wellington interested in participating.

Mayor Joanne Ross-Zuj asked about the OPP program called DARE, an anti- drug  and alcohol program in elementary schools.

Smith said that is working well, and only one school is not involved in it across the county this year. He said he is working on that school.

Councillor Fred Morris noted Puslinch started a Roads Watch program, where people could call police about bad driving, and he wondered if that is going to be spread across the county.

Smith said it will, and he expects it could start in Centre Wellington by September, and perhaps earlier.

Councillor Walt Visser told Smith the Family Health Team got a grant that enabled it to hire six mental health services providers, so more of those services are now available.

Councillor Kelly Linton asked how the new OPP building in Aboyne will enhance police service.

Smith said he is not sure it will, but it will give officers more space for work. He said eventually he hopes to have the Crime Unit working out of that building. “Centre Wellington is by far our busiest location,” he added. “You’ll see a larger police presence.”

He reminded council that building is opening on April 29, and everyone is welcome.