Observers say RCMP are doing a good job, but need to learn lessons from annual report

The president and CEO of an Atlantic Canadian think-tank said New Brunswick RCMP’s goal of making the province the safest in Canada is an achievable one.

“You basically have overall crime down a little bit, you’ve got more violent crime, particularly assaults kind of edging up a little bit. You’re getting less crime but it’s tending towards the more violent. That’s a national trend and it’s not surprising to see it in these numbers,” said Charles Cirtwill of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, in reference to the recently released report entitled New Brunswick RCMP’s 2009-2010 Year in Review: Becoming Canada’s Safest Province. “In terms of the idea that they are going to make New Brunswick the safest province in the country, sure, that’s a realistic goal. They’ve got a couple things actually in their favour there, one of which being that New Brunswick still has a relatively large rural base … Rural communities do tend to be a little safer.”

The RCMP report noted that there had been an almost six per cent drop in property crimes in the province since 2007, as there were 16,796 reported incidents in 2007, as opposed to 15,901 in 2009. However, crimes against persons, such as assault and harassment, went up from 6,318 incidents in 2007 to 7,212 in 2009.

“I wish I could say it was a fluctuation and that the trend data of crime statistics would indicate that that’s going to do down, but in fact I think that’s a reflection of the world we live in, unfortunately,” Cirtwill said. “… People are far more willing to use a knife instead of a stick and use a gun instead of a knife and that’s becoming quite an obvious trend and a dangerous one.”

Linda Patterson, the president of the Crime Prevention Association of New Brunswick, said she was satisfied with the results of the RCMP report.

“I’m pleased with the way the RCMP is moving in the province overall, I’m very pleased with how they’re moving. I guess in their target areas and their crime reduction work, it looks like it is paying off and it’s having an impact in the province,” she said. “I think (the report) shows RCMP where they may have to target some areas in reducing crime a little bit. But I think overall the way that they have their five year plan set out, I think we’re going to see benefits down the road.”

Michael Boudreau, associate professor and chairman of the criminology department at St. Thomas University, said the report could be a way to help the RCMP be seen positively in the public eye.

“It’s an upbeat and positive report overall. Sometimes when police publish an annual report, they tend to be a bit more dour,” he said. “This is trying to remind people that they’re in the community, that they are the community. It’s trying to reinvigorate (the RCMP’s) image.”

Another highlight of the report was that drug enforcement had increased in the province by 14 per cent since 2007.

Boudreau said it’s important to note that this increased attention toward drug activity doesn’t imply more drug production and trafficking is occurring in New Brunswick, but rather that more people involved in drug activity are being caught due to increased efforts by the RCMP.

“They’re seizing a lot more marijuana,” he said . “It doesn’t mean more marijuana is being grown or distributed in the province, it just means the RCMP is finding more of it.”

The report also noted that in 2009 the number of highway fatalities dropped 27 per cent from 2008. However, the number of serious injury crashes increased from 179 in 2008 to 195 in 2009.

According to the annual report, the RCMP has focused on a number of initiatives to promote highway safety, improve seatbelt use and decrease incidents of impaired or aggressive driving. Over the coming year, the report said, police will focus on continuing these campaigns.

“I always welcome and applaud any initiatives police have, whether it’s spot checks or education within schools and communities to urge people to buckle up,” Boudreau said. “Any time the police can be proactive around these matters, that’s a very good thing and they should continue to do so.”

Dick Isabelle, the assistant deputy minster of Police, Fire and Emergency Services for the Department of Public Safety, said he believes the report does a good job in conveying to the public the types of things the RCMP is involved in and what their priorities are, which will thereby increase public confidence.

The survey stated that 89 per cent of New Brunswickers polled were satisfied with the RCMP’s contribution to ensuring safe home and safe communities, while 92 per cent agree that the RCMP plays a valuable role in reducing organized crime.

“When we see an increase in crime, the caution that we apply is that if you’re increasing public confidence in policing, one of the other things that is probably happening is the public is more likely to report crimes that they may not have bothered reporting in the past,” he said.

“The fact that some crime stats are going up, we’re still looking closely at that to see if that means there’s more crime happening or if people are just reporting more of those crimes because they believe somebody is paying attention to them.”