Policing in Wellington North shows drop in some crimes

Staff Sergeant Scott Smith of the Wellington County OPP is doing the rounds of presentations to local councillors and visited Wellington North on Monday night.

Though many of his presentations followed similar veins of discussion, each highlights crime rates that illustrate local impact.

Smith stated the new direction is that all OPP detachments are being urged to aim at results-driven policing – which means looking at local issues and work to reduce crime rates there.

Over that past three years, Well­ington North has accounted for 15% of the service calls for the Wellington detachment.

In the area of sexual assault, Smith said that while the incidents in the county have varied from 53 to 63 per year, the local incidents dropped from 12 in 2005 to 7 in 2007.

The township also shared the county trend in an overall decrease in all other assaults, which Smith said could be anything from a fight outside a bar to a school yard brawl.

Locally, the number drop­ped from 79 to 65 per year over a three year period, while in Wellington the numbers drop­ped from 334 to 296.

Smith also pointed to significant decreases in the number of break and enters, both in Wellington North and the county. Locally the annual number of break-ins dropped from 96 to 48. The number of residential break-ins, which account for roughly half of the overall number of those crimes, drop­ped accordingly.

He noted that while the theft of autos has risen significantly in Wellington, from 321 to 370, the number of auto thefts locally has remained at about 36. And, the situation is similar for thefts over $5,000, where local annual occurrences dropped from 10 to 8, while county incidents went up from 28 to 35.

But thefts under $5,000 have skyrocketed from 84 to 127 annually in Wellington North, while county levels dropped marginally.

The number of mischief charges has dropped by a third, from 176 to 115.

While Smith noted a slight increase in the number of traffic calls, he said weather and deer populations have play­ed a factor. Across Wellington County, 338 deer were struck by vehicles in the past year, with many in Wellington North.

One area where Wellington North is doing well is in the area of impaired driving, where the overall number of charges is decreasing, unlike the county’s general increase between 2005 and 2007. Smith mentioned the Maclean’s magazine survey which placed Well­ington 19th in Canada on a list of the safest communities in the country with populations over 50,000.

Crime rates for victimization of both violent or property crimes in Wellington North are more than the overall county rates, but only a fraction of the provincial and national crime rates.

Concerns cited in Smith’s report included the increase in domestic incidents. While numbers have increased 57% across the county, in Wellington North the increase is 135%,

Issues regarding mental health have increased by 3% in the county, but by 20% in Wellington North.

Thefts from motor vehicles have increased 35% across the county, but increased 75% in Wellington North.

The only bright spot seems that while impaired driving has increased 11% in the county, it has dropped by 10% in the township.

He said thefts from motor vehicles primarily occur when cars are unlocked and roaming groups rummage through the contents.

“It never ceases to amaze me the number of women’s purses left in unlocked vehicles,” Smith said.

The same holds true for ipods, GPS systems, laptop computers, and golf clubs.

“There are relatively few occurrences of windows being smashed to get into a vehicle,” Smith said, adding that open- door thefts are the type that frustrate police. He said often culprits work in groups of two or three, with some acting as lookouts.

“We know it is an under-reported crime, so it is difficult to estimate the true numbers,” he said. He also suspected most of the crime proceeds are being used to buy drugs.

“We’re trying to convince people to lock their vehicles,” he said of the Lock It or Lose It campaign

As much as the police do to reduce impaired driving, it seems to be on the rise, Smith  said. Impaired drivers are male and female, all age groups, and from all walks of life. Drivers have been charged at 8am on a Sunday at 10pm heading into a bar.

He urged people to report things they’ve seen – whether it be a suspicious character to a crime in progress.

Smith noted that at least one instance happened in Wellington North, where it was later discovered there were witnesses to an incident, but none of them came forward at the time it happened. If they had, Smith said, police might have caught those involved while the act was happening.

Councillor Dan Yake commented that he drives daily from Mount Forest to Arthur to work. “It’s a windy, hilly road and I’ve seen some of the most creative driving at horrendous speeds.” However, Yake said he seldom sees police on that stretch of highway, aside those in Kenilworth.

Smith stated that last year, the Wellington OPP laid 16,000 traffic related charges – which is far in excess of the provincial average. He suggested there may be times in the day when cruisers are not as visible.

Smith said there are two things that impede the police during peak hours. One is responding to alarms, false or otherwise.

Sometimes it may be an alarm deactivated improperly by an owner, but the police are required to investigate. The other situation are prank 9-1-1 calls, which officers must investigate. Both types of incident take resources off the road, Smith said.

On the positive side, Smith was pleased with reporting of crimes, such as within The Wellington Advertiser.

In his two-and-a-half years with the Wellington OPP detachment, Smith said “it’s been a treat to be involved in policing here.”

Most people pay attention too, and try to abide by the laws, he said. “Although sometimes mistakes happen, people here are basically good.”