Police seeing big increase in drunken driving, council hears

Centre Well­ington councillors heard drun­ken driving continues to climb despite high penalties – and council had some concerns of its own to pass along to the OPP.

Staff Sergeant Steve Smith visited council’s committee of the whole and pre­sented statistics about the township, and how it compares to other plac­es. He said the OPP under Julian Fan­tino is seeking better results, and he is visiting all local councils, with individual reports, to help pol­ice “ensure we have the tem­pera­ture of the community.”

He said Centre Wellington ac­counts for 26% of all the police calls in Wellington County, and that is “by far the leaders of our workload.”

But, he added, “That’s not bad considering the popula­tion.” Centre Wellington has about 30% of the county’s popu­­lation.

Smith presented council with the OPP’s major concerns for the community, mainly cit­ing sta­tis­tics from 2005, 2006, and last year: They are:

– a 57% increase in domes­tic incidents over the past three years in Wellington County, and a 13% increase in Centre Wellington;

– mental health issues, with a 3% increase in Wellington County, and an 11% increase in Centre Wellington;

– a 35% increase in the num­ber of thefts from auto­mobiles, and a 33% increase in Centre Wellington; and

– An 11% increase in im­pair­ed driving across Welling­ton county, and a 29% increase in Centre Wellington since 2005

About that last one, Smith said, “In spite of all the work being done to eliminate im­pair­ed driving on our highways, the numbers continue to climb.”

He said the charges cross all statistical areas, including age and social status, and every year, impaired driving claims at least one life.

Councillor Kirk McElwain ask­ed if the police have been giving the same effort for all three years, and Smith said the effort is similar.

But, he said, even police are su­rprised at the number of ob­viously impaired drivers who simply drive up to the Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere spot checks. That happens “al­most every night,” and Smith added the drivers are often “two to three times over the limit.”

He concluded, “They know they’re impaired, but RIDE is not seen as a deterrent.”

McElwain asked if the courts are a problem.

Smith said they are “a chal­lenge to us” because techni­calities often get people freed.

He said police need peo­ple’s help, “to be our eyes and ears.”

Smith said nothing, neither the automatic 90 day drivers lic­ence suspension nor the huge cost of lawyers seems to deter drinking drivers. Police esti­mate a conviction will cost an impaired driver over $18,000 in legal fees, insurance increases, lost time from work, and pay­ing for alternate trans­portation.

Councillor Fred Morris ask­ed if police can do anything about people who are driving and impaired by drugs.

Smith said said the current statistics are for alcohol only, and impairment from drugs is “difficult to prove.” He ex­plain­ed, “Unless we have proof, we can’t get a warrant for a blood sample.

Morris asked if police have “the tools you need.”

Smith said the system “bogs down,” and police could use a simple system of laws. He said some legislators understand that, and others do not.

Thefts from vehicles

Smith said thieves are well aware many people now keep loose change in their vehicle’s former ashtrays, and that pro­vides an incentive for theft, and a reason such crimes are grow­ing. He said some cars carry up to $50 in change in them, as well as valuables left in plain sight, and those are crimes of opportunity.

“Kids will raid,” he said, ad­ding that they often use look­outs at either end of a street while someone goes through open vehicles. “There have been adults arrested, too.”

Smith said open vehicles present “such an easy target” and that is why the OPP has its Lock it or Lose it awareness program.

As well, he said, “We’re looking for volunteers. Watch where kids are roaming and up to no good.”

Smith said the vandal­ism against a church in Fergus re­cently, while not necessarily a hate crime, was certainly “a hein­ous crime.” He said, “We’re working hard to solve it.”

Councillor Walt Visser noted the township now has increased its mental health workers by five, and asked if that will help.

Smith said “People get frus­trated,” and there are numerous 9-1-1 emergency calls police must deal with about out of control teenagers, beaten spous­es, and, he said, suicides are up.

“Mental Health is becoming a big concern,” he said.

High school problem

Morris told Smith that his ward contains Centre Welling­ton District High School, and he gets regular complaints about students obstructing traf­fic, and wondered what can be done about that.

Smith said there is no easy solution, mainly because of smokers. They need a place to smoke, but school officials ban smoking on school property.

“The simple solution would be for schools to provide a place for kids to smoke – but schools don’t see it that way,” Smith said.

He added witnesses do not want to be put to the bother of going to court to testify on min­or issues, and police and the township will have to work with the school board to solve the problems.

He added it is not just in Fergus that there are problems with students. “All commu­nities struggle. Cops are forced into an adversarial role – and nobody wins.”

Councillor Bob Foster said he was pleased to see violent crime is low in Centre Well­ington since 2005.

“Do other communities have higher rates?

He was referring to a gra­ph­ic showing violent crime in Canada was at 112 per 1,000 people, 106 for that many in Ontario, 12 in Wellington Coun­ty, and 13.5 in Centre Well­ington.

The national average for property crime was 233 per 1,000 people, 248 in Ontario, 62 in the county, and 51 in the township.

By 2006, the national rate of victimization for violent crime was 9.5, 7.5 in Ontario, 4 in the county, and 5 in Centre Well­ing­ton.

Property crimes were 36 per 1,000 nationally, 28 provin­cial­ly, 22 in the county, and 19 in Centre Wellington.

Smith said Toronto does not even make the top ten in Ontario, and that is a sign that violent crime is not necessarily equated to high population.