Pubdate: Mon, 10 Jun 2002
Source: Oakville Beaver (CN ON)
Copyright: 2002, Oakville Beaver
Author: Angela Blackburn


Police Coping With Staff Shortages And Population Growth

Since sept. 11, violent crime is down across Canada, across North America 
- -- and especially in Oakville.

"Since Sept. 11, violent crime across Canada and across North America has 
decreased, and in Oakville the decrease is even more significant," Halton 
Regional Police Deputy Chief Gary Crowell told Town Council last week.

"We're not exactly sure why, but we're continuing to study the trend," said 
Crowell, who gave a state-of-the-union synopsis to councillors about 
policing in Halton, and in Oakville.

While there was good news, Crowell said police have their eye on several 
new projects to tackle specific Oakville problems.

A decrease in clearing up crimes, significant numbers of auto thefts, 
marijuana grow operations, vandalism and break-and-enters are all 
problematic in Oakville.

"Last year, there was a significant decrease in crime clearance rates, but 
it's still above the Ontario and national averages," said Crowell.

That said, police are still concerned.

Crowell said an exodus of officers to smaller communities and an 
unprecedented number of retirements -- along with population growth and 
several complex murder investigations elsewhere in Halton -- have 
contributed to the problem.

Oakville's overall crime rate has jumped 5 per cent, consistent with 
Halton's rate.

Auto theft rates are a concern, said Crowell, noting it's due in part to 
the community's affluence.

Superintendent Dan Okuloski said he would return to Oakville Town council 
later this year with a program aimed at cracking down on auto thefts.

Break-and-enters are down, but Crowell said, "one is one too many."

Again, Okuloski said he'll be back with a program that will be tailored 
specifically to the Bristol Circle commercial area.

Police have already had success in curtailing problems with youths 
loitering around the Upper Oakville Shopping Centre -- a problem Okuloski 
said has now been "solved."

Police are now keeping watch on the Marlborough Court area, as well as the 
Kerr Street and Dorval Drive area where he said several bars are located.

Oakville has spawned a dozen new Neighbourhood Watch zones in the last 
year, Road Watch continues and a Surf & Turf project in Bronte has taken 
aim at vandalism around the boating community and auto thefts.

The police Major Investigation Unit also has its hands full with trying to 
curtail the infiltration of biker wars and motorcycle gangs into Ontario.

"Hells Angels are moving into Ontario. These are not a bunch of guys on 
Harleys riding around on Sundays. They're very much involved in organized 
crime, weapons, prostitution and drugs," said Crowell.

"In Oakville, a number of members have been identified as belonging to 
clubs associated with Hells Angels," said Crowell, dubbing them "wannabes."

"We're keeping very close tabs on these people and we know who they are," 
Crowell said.

Marijuana grow houses are a continuing problem in Oakville as they are 
throughout Halton and the GTA.

"We've never experienced this before," admitted Crowell, noting the 
operations in which average neighbourhood homes are converted, even 
destroyed, as they're turned into marijuana growing facilities, are "a 
public safety issue."

"They're definitely a fire hazard and of concern to police, Hydro and the 
fire department," said Crowell.

Hydro is usually bypassed -- live -- so that the copious amounts of hydro 
needed for the operations can get by the authorities.

Crowell said you can often "hear the crackling of hydro" inside the houses 
and smell and taste the chemicals that are used.

Not only is there concern for neighbours and police and firefighters, but 
lately people have been found living in the homes, including children, said 
the deputy chief.

"We're also finding weapons, guns, knives and guard dogs in these houses," 
said Crowell.

Ward 2 Councillor Linda Hardacre asked the deputy chief if police have come 
across any body rub operations that, like the pot house operations, are 
being set up in local homes.

Crowell said that while one or two have been found in neighbouring 
Burlington, police have not found any in Oakville.

He did provide the caveat that it doesn't necessarily mean they don't exist.

Mayor Ann Mulvale advised that, like in marijuana grow operations, 
residents should be vigilant about calling police if they notice anything 

Compounding the situation is the staff shortage police across Ontario are 
experiencing. In Halton last year there were 60 constable vacancies -- a 
number that's expected to climb to 72 this year.

"Our clearance rates have caused a bit of concern, but they're still above 
average," said Crowell, noting Halton continues to hang on to its coveted 
claim of being the safest community in Canada based on population.
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MAP posted-by: Beth