WELLINGTON COUNTY – Serious crime is down across the board in the county, according to a year-end report presented to the Police Services Board on Feb. 9 by Wellington OPP staff sergeants Steve Thomas and Dean Korn.
The pandemic appears to have made a dent in criminal activity in 2020, with overall calls for service dropping to 24,660, following a high of 32,699 calls in 2019.
Although overall crime may be down slightly in certain categories, call volumes are rising again – by 25% over 2020 – but fall short of meeting pre-pandemic levels.
The 2021 OPP report, prepared by detachment commander Inspector Paul Richardson, notes the agency is anticipating a continued increase in call volume as pandemic restrictions ease.
Driving complaints were by far the most prevalent occurrence in 2021, with 2,589 complaints (down by 9% compared to 2020).
In second is the nondescript “police assistance” occurrence, used when a call doesn’t fit another more specific occurrence type, according to Wellington OPP media staffer Jacob Unger.
“Some types of calls that regularly fall into this category would be when police assist [paramedics] or other police agencies,” Unger stated in an email.
There were 2,430 police assistance occurrences last year.
And in third place were motor vehicle collisions, with 1,823 occurrences.
Domestic disputes increased in 2021
Domestic disputes (797), mental health concerns (737) and thefts (707) were some of the top serious and non-traffic-related call types officers attended last year.
An Advertiser review of call data between 2010 and 2020 determined domestic disputes are up significantly compared to a yearly average of 410 disputes.
Mental health calls were not explicitly reported in past year-end reports reviewed.
Thefts are above last year’s total of 699, but down from a yearly average of 795 between 2010 and 2020.
Traffic-related occurrences most prevalent
Calls involving traffic, whether a driving complaint or a collision, are the most prevalent type of call police deal with in the county.
“We get many, many traffic complaints,” Thomas told the board.
There were 1,823 vehicle collisions last year, down 9.8% from 2,021 in 2020.
However, data shows there was an increase in collisions causing injuries.
Injuries increased from 159 in 2020 to 173 in 2021, an increase of 9%.
Seven people died in collisions last year, the same number of people who died in vehicle collisions in 2020.
Since 2014 at least 76 people have died in collisions on roads within Wellington County.
In the category of “other collisions,” there was an increase of 76% (from the 21 in 2020 to 37 in 2021).
Unger was unable to say what type of collision falls into the “other” category.
Last October, Wellington OPP began allowing drivers of reportable vehicle collisions to use the Aboyne detachment as a collision reporting centre with the goal of freeing up officers from having to respond to collisions when unnecessary.
From October to December, police at the Aboyne detachment have addressed 101 collision reports, or 22% of all property damage collisions during the last three months of the year.
Decrease in impaired driving offences
When it comes to what the OPP describe as “the big four” traffic offences, there was:
- an 88% increase in seatbelt offences, for a total of 350 occurrences;
- a 36% increase in speeding offences, for a total of 3,562 occurrences;
- a 58% increase in distracted driving offences, for a total of 90 occurrences; and
- a 21% decrease in impaired driving offences, for a total of 175 occurrences.
“Despite consistent messaging concerning the dangers of the ‘big four’ offences … these offences continue to be contributing factors in the fatal and personal injury motor vehicle collisions occurring in Wellington County,” said a prepared statement provided by Unger.
“The Wellington County [traffic management unit continues] to conduct proactive patrols … focusing on enforcement and education in an effort to make the roadways in Wellington County safer for all who use them.”
In total, police issued 5,840 tickets last year for offences under the Highway Traffic Act, provincial legislation addressing traffic offences, including speeding, not wearing a seatbelt and distracted driving.
Impaired driving was the only one of the “big four” to decrease in 2021 – down by 46 from the 221 impaired drivers caught in 2020.
Unger did not address an Advertiser question about whether there was in fact less impaired driving last year or if there were just fewer people caught.
Since 2014, alcohol has been determined to be a factor in at least 376 collisions in the county.
Overall county crime down
The top crimes of 2021 involved assault, threats, theft, fraud and mischief – all of which were down slightly across the board.
The exception was for thefts over $5,000 in value, which increased from 28 in 2020 to 72 in 2021, a 157% increase.
“[We’re] doing a bit of research,” Thomas said, suggesting the increase was due to thefts of commercial and utility trailers.
In total last year, police laid 1,788 Criminal Code charges and 37 drug charges ranging from possession of cocaine to four charges for the trafficking of crystal methamphetamine.
“After 2018, once the cannabis was legalized, obviously we saw a drop in our drug crimes, but we’ve refocused our efforts into the trafficking and distribution,” Thomas pointed out to board members.
Wellington OPP’s county crime unit “dedicated significant time to death investigations in 2021” according to Richardson’s report.
Human remains found in Guelph/Eramosa in April were later identified as missing Waterloo Region woman Kathleen Ann Kraehling, reported missing in 2011.
And in May, human remains found south of Mount Forest near Highway 6 south of Sideroad 5 West, were later identified as Levi Edward Larter, last seen in 2020.
The crime unit also investigated 45 reported sexual assaults and Richardson noted one particular standout case involving Palmerston resident Michael Bradely Hurst who police charged with numerous sexual offences spanning a number of sexual assault survivors over many years.
With the pandemic causing more people to remain at home, Richardson stated the crime unit arrested 25 people on outstanding warrants and on Dec. 29, a warrant execution led to the seizure of stolen jewelry and a variety of weapons including crossbows, pellet guns, ammunition and knives.
On the topic of warrants, the county street crime unit executed 40 last year, leading to the seizure of “large quantities of controlled substances, illegal cannabis, firearms, proceeds of crime, drug paraphernalia and offence related property.”
Richardson highlighted a drug trafficking investigation in Puslinch, leading to the arrest of two people and the seizure of cocaine, heroin, morphine, psychedelics and cash.
Another investigation involving Wellington OPP cracked down on cocaine and cannabis distribution here and in surrounding municipalities. Search warrants were executed at locations in Erin and in Wellington North with a variety of drugs, cash and weapons seized.