Locally, crime is down and that’s a good thing according to Wellington County OPP Detachment Commander Inspector Scott Smith.
On March 22, he told council, “There is not much to report to the council this year in regards to crime in Minto.”
Mayor George Bridge said that Smith was there to address any concerns within the town of Minto. “We don’t have a lot,” Bridge said after viewing the report.
“You certainly don’t,” Smith agreed. “I’m very pleased to say that county-wide, this past year, property crime was reduced by 12% across the board, in Minto it was down 18% – based on the three year averages. It’s a really positive move.”
He added, “Violent crime was also down 7% across Wellington County, and locally it dropped 28%. It’s quite a significant decrease.”
He saw an overall decrease in crime across the town, but one thing that caused concern is the number of domestic calls are on the rise.
“I make no bones about it; as the economy continues as it is, people are engaged more in battle, and if there is anything people are going to fight over, it is money. We typically get called or involved in those.”
But Smith also pointed out the number of occurrences where people are actually charged is less half of that.
“If you look across Wellington County and Minto, it’s usually about 34% of the time we’re actually laying criminal charges.” He said most of those are as a result of an assault.
“It’s nice be able to bring back a positive report to any community. Minto is certainly a very safe community to live in – according to what is reported to us.”
Smith gave council two other documents. One was the Ontario Mobilization and Engagement Model of Community Policing. It reviews community policing over the last number of years.
“It’s certainly had its good days and its bad days,” he said. “There is a very clear understanding that community safety is not strictly the responsibility of the police – and that the community must take ownership for the community, and take ownership for the issues that are there, and work with the police to resolve the issues.”
He said there is a consist circle of assess the situation, plan and act.
The intent is to move from a high need for police assistance, to working towards safer communities, and ultimately to a point where there is a low need for police assistance.
That move includes engaging the community to motivate and support neighbours to deal more effectively with the root causes of crime and insecurity in the neighbourhoods.
He said community policing is a process where police and community members partner to improve community well being, safety, and security through problem identification, analysis, response, and evaluation. “One of the ways we’ve been able to do this is through our Community Oriented Policing (COP) committees.”
He said there is one in Minto that is in the stages of assessing issues and planning activities it would like to see.
“One of the things which came quickly to mind was activities for youth. They’re looking at trying to address why the youth in Minto have to go elsewhere for activities, whether it is a dance in Mount Forest or other similar types of events. If the events were a little bit closer to home, they might be a little better behaved.”
Smith said at this time last year, there were only two COP committees in Wellington – in Puslinch and Drayton.
“As of today, there are six that are operating.”
Minto is a new one, but they are in Arthur, Centre Wellington (Fergus and Elora), and Erin. We’re moving forward with this. We’re learning things from this, and the community is as well.”
Smith spoke of three key factors for crime.
“For crime to occur you need to have a suitable location, a target or victim, and motivation or motivated offender.”
“The days when councillor Ron Faulkner leaves all his bags of cash out on the front lawn in the middle of the night … It’s certainly a suitable place and target, but if there is no motivated offender or thieves in the neighbourhood on that particular night, the money is still going to be there the following morning.”
Smith admitted to being as bad at one time about some issues as others have been.
On a cold January evening, you’ve crawled into bed and are nice warm and toasty, and realize you leave your wallet or computer in the back seat of your car and didn’t lock it. At that point in time, you have a decision to make. You can get up and freeze and go out and lock it up, or do you take your chances? If there is a motivated offender that night, those items are gone.”
Smith said a lot of the approaches include encouraging people to lock up their property.
“But I can tell you that there’s really an attitude across society today that … It’s just property … It doesn’t matter. But they still report it to us to say that the thieves have been out and about.”
He said police continue the work to get people to secure property the way that they should. On the other side, he said part of the measures are in dealing with the offender.
Though reluctant to call them causes, Smith said, “There are a number of risk factors for youth to become engaged in criminal activity.”
Some include poverty, mental health, unemployment or underemployment, lack of education, lack of parenting, and a lack overall of socialization skills.
“Through the social development side, we try to mitigate those risk factors.”
Some of that involves work with the COP committees but also with various social agencies on various issues.
“It’s a challenge, I can tell you that. It is very challenging and is not one which ever results in rapid change. It’s a generation at times as we try to change people’s way of thinking and dealing with situations. But we hope at the end of the day, we’ll be far better for it and crime will decrease through Minto and the rest of Wellington County.”
Councillor Mary Lou Colwell is a member of Minto’s COP committee. “The survey with the youth, was done at the schools to identify issues,” she said.
Colwell cited a similar survey on the Minto website and a link for adults to take that survey. She encouraged residents to take part.
“It really helps the committee get the information they need to make better decisions.”
When asked about the specific decreases in Minto, Smith said Wellington County is actually doing better than the provincial average.
“Part of is simply the approach we’ve taken as a detachment to try to address some of these issues and to add a bit more visibility with increased foot patrols and some more vehicles out and about. There’s a variety of different measures that we’re using,” Smith said. “We’re engaged with youth now more, through our school resource officers in each of the high schools.”
He added in the past where offenders were given a slap on the wrist and sent home, more work is now being done in conjunctions with the John Howard Society and other programs so people become aware of the consequences of their actions.
“But an aging population also has an impact.”
Smith said as the population ages it tends to get away from crime. “We certainly see it statistically, that once a person is over the age of 25; those over 25 are certainly far less involved in crime than those between the age of 16 and 25.”