Sunday, March 29, 2020

Town Hall meeting focused on crime, community safety

Approximately 75 people attended a Town Hall Meeting organized by Wallaceburg Neighbourhood Watch on Thursday night, January 16, at the UAW Hall.

The evening included a question and answer session and presentations by three guest speakers: Gary Conn, Chief of the Chatham-Kent Police Service, Councillor Marjorie Crew, founder of East Side Pride, and John Norton, Chatham-Kent’s general manager of community development and chief legal officer.

“It’s really indicative that you are engaged, involved and concerned about your community,” Conn told the crowd.

Conn provided a detailed presentation, which included various statistics for crime in Wallaceburg and all of Chatham-Kent.

He said service calls increased to a “record level” across Chatham-Kent last year. Calls have also increased each year since 2015 in Wallaceburg and all across the Municipality.

In terms of property crime, which Conn said is one of the Chatham-Kent Police Service’s “key pillars” of focus, Wallaceburg had roughly the same amount of thefts each year since 2015. Conn added that 2019 saw 64 more break-and-enters compared to 2015 in Wallaceburg.

Conn highlighted a number of resources on the Chatham-Kent Police Service website, including: the security camera registry and the bicycle registry.

The chief said drug and Mental Health Act calls have tripled across Chatham-Kent have “tripled” over the last 14 years. However, these type of calls have been lower in Wallaceburg compared to other service call categories.

Conn said he encourages people to call the police if they have information about any crime or if they see suspicious behaviour, a statistic that has doubled in Wallaceburg since 2015.

“Information is the lifeblood of our profession,” the chief said.

Crew discussed some of the steps East Side Pride took when they started as a Community Association over 20 years ago.

She said back 1999 her neighbourhood in Chatham had drug houses on every street, was a high crime area, had run down properties, poor lighting, johns and prostitutes and there was a fear of crime in the neighbourhood.

She said the “breaking point” for her neighbourhood was a murder that took place at a local bar over an eight ball of crack.

The community rallied together and started East Side Pride, Crew said.

A combination of community initiates were launched, including the implementation of community patrols.

Crew said the patrols, where members of the group walked the streets, was an effective way of becoming visible, creating a sense of safety and credibility and gathering information to share with the Chatham-Kent Police Service.

She said collaboration with community partners, including: the police, media, local businesses and other organizations were key to their success.

Crew said some of the results they saw after years of work and commitment, included: 30% sustained reduction in calls for service over 10 year, no more street level prostitution, reduced active drug houses, an increase in property standards, improved parks and community pride instilled in the residents.

Norton said residents in the Municipality may grow “frustrated” if they do not receive the information or assistance they need from the police in certain situations.

“Obviously if you have a crime happening on your property or in your neighbourhood, you definitely call the police,” Norton said.

“When you call the police and you say there is a vehicle parked in my neighbours yard… and it has been there for months, the police won’t do anything about that, or if you say they haven’t cut the grass across the street in months. Those are not then things the police do, but we at the city have bylaws and we can enforce those bylaws.”

During the questions and answer period, several topics were brought up, including: patrols in downtown Wallaceburg and along the Sydenham River, needle exchange, harm reduction, the need for a physical location for vulnerable residents and the current judicial system, among others.

Christine Button, who was in attendance on behalf of a newly formed “Round Table” group in Wallaceburg, told the crowd on Thursday night that an open meeting is planned for February 5 at Trinity United Church in Wallaceburg at 7 p.m., where similar topics are set to be discussed.

She said a person with lived experience related to drugs is set to speak at the event.

Wallaceburg Councillor Aaron Hall, who is a part of the Wallaceburg Neighbourhood Watch group, said they would be interested in working in collaboration with the “Round Table” group moving forward as well.

UAW – Local 251 donated the use of the hall for the evening, while Mark and Sarah’s No Frills donated bottled water and Tim Horton’s in Wallaceburg donated coffee and Tim Bits.

Wallaceburg Neighbourhood Watch officially became active once again back in September of 2018, after the previous group disbanded about five years prior.

Their immediate focus for Neighbourhood Watch in Wallaceburg is to utilize an online program called Neighbourhood Protect, in order to generate anonymous tips and information about crime and suspicious activity occurring in Wallaceburg.

Visit www.neighbourhoodprotect.ca for details.

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