Pubdate: Wed, 19 Oct 2005 Source: Oakville Beaver (CN ON) Copyright: 2005, Oakville Beaver Contact: http://www.haltonsearch.com/hr/ob/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/1600 Author: Angela Blackburn CANADA NEEDS TOUGHER LAWS 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.