Pubdate: Wed, 19 Oct 2005
Source: Oakville Beaver (CN ON)
Copyright: 2005, Oakville Beaver
Author: Angela Blackburn


The police need more front line officers on the street and stiffer 
court penalties to back them up in order to fight Canada's growing 
crime problem.

That's what the Conservative Party of Canada's Task Force on Safe 
Streets and Healthy Communities heard when it came to Oakville Monday.

"As a police officer with over 30 years (experience) I fully support 
community policing," said veteran Halton Regional Police Service 
officer Dave Atkinson, who is currently president of the local police 
union, the Halton Regional Police Association. "We can't keep robbing 
the front lines to achieve it."

Task force member Jim Flaherty, former Ontario attorney general, 
solicitor general and minister of correctional services under Mike 
Harris' provincial government, was hosted by Oakville Federal 
Conservative candidate Terence Young.

Flaherty and Young were there to find out what should drive the 
Conservative campaign platform.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper set up the task force in August 
and its report, after touring Canada, is due Oct. 31.

Monday's meeting, held in rented space at Town Hall, heard from a 
cross-section of the public, including presentations from the United 
Way of Oakville, the Kerr Street BIA and Kerr Community Consultation 
Committee, Seniors and Law Enforcement Working Together (SALT), and 
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

Concerns included stiffer penalties for drunk driving, testing for 
drug-impaired driving, cracking down on conditional sentencing like 
house arrest for serious crimes, fraud perpetrated on seniors, 
funding social services to help prevent costs incurred in the 
judicial system and more.

Gun violence and the repeated return of violent offenders to the 
streets were noted as two top concerns for police officers by Atkinson.

The veteran officer, who represents 750 police officers in Halton, 
spoke against the decriminalization of marijuana and called for a 
minimum sentence for those involved in marijuana grow operations.

"Labs and grow operations are a serious threat to our community," 
said Atkinson, calling for a minimum sentence of jail time and 
substantial financial penalties for those involved.

While supporting crime prevention programs, Atkinson said they should 
not come at the expense of front-line patrols.

Calling it "robbing Peter to pay Paul," Atkinson said, "We can't 
detract from the front line to support education programs."

While the education programs are of significant value, Atkinson 
repeated, "We're doing that, we believe, at the expense of the front lines."

Citing Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) as "an excellent 
program," Atkinson said, "They should not come at the expense of the 
front lines. If we can't protect ourselves, how can we protect the public?"

It was suggested retired police officers have a wealth of knowledge 
and experience and could deliver education programs while other 
officers stay on the front line.

Through the discussion, a picture was painted by those-in-the-know 
that the public may not see.

Former police officer and Oakville resident Mike Proska, president of 
Burl-Oak Investigative Services Inc., spoke about car theft. Some 
170,000 vehicles are stolen in Canada annually -- 50,000 of those in 
Ontario and most of those in the GTA.

Some 10,000 of those vehicles are never recovered. They're exported 
worldwide or dismantled for parts.

"People's perception is that it's a property crime and does not rate 
as a high priority on the police or court radar," said Proska, who 
noted SUVs are the current popular favourite in Oakville.

It's a big problem in Halton where thieves have taken to entering 
homes at night while the occupants sleep to locate keys near the door 
or hanging in the kitchen.

Some instances have turned violent and thefts often lead to police 
pursuits, according to Proska.

He also noted that thieves are often taking the drug Oxycontin, which 
is a painkiller that has the effect of inhibiting fear.

Oxycontin has been dubbed "the poor man's morphine," and "hippie or 
hill-billy heroin."

Proska called for tougher laws that target organized crime, noting 
it's often organized crime that lay behind vehicle thefts and 
marijuana grow operations.

Young asked how much a grow operator could earn annually using a 
house in Glen Abbey. He heard easily a million, tax-free, a year with 
maybe a three to six-month jail term as a penalty -- a cost or 
licence for doing business, a holiday for a new millionaire.

Atkinson said that for every grow operation busted there could be 
another 30 to 40 that police just don't have the resources to raid 
and shut down.

While hydro operations have become more vigilant about watching for 
high hydro usage, Atkinson said it's now finally becoming accepted 
practice for police to fly over communities using infrared equipment 
to detect high heat or ultraviolet rays indicative of grow operations.

At the community level, Oakville Conservative Party member Peter 
Turkington said that a Sunday information session held at the Glen 
Abbey Recreation Centre saw residents raise concerns about what kids 
do after school, asking how they could detect grow operations in 
their neighbourhood and reporting that while walking across Glen 
Abbey it's possible for kids to be offered the option to buy drugs 
multiple times.