Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jul 2006
Source: Fort McMurray Today (CN AB)
Copyright: 2006 Fort McMurray Today
Author: Glenn Kauth
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


While Canada's crime rate fell last year, Fort
McMurray held up its reputation as a hot spot for lawlessness as
statistics here shot up 23 per cent. "It's something to be concerned
about, but it's something that's typical of a boomtown," Bill Pitt, a
criminologist at the University of Alberta, said of new crime data
from Statistics Canada for 2005.

The numbers show crime increased faster than Fort McMurray's
population growth, but Pitt said the trend is reflective of a
transient community with a high percentage of single males aged 18 to
30. Moving here from other regions, they arrive with a sense of
"rootlessness," he pointed out. "There's that alienation and
separation that they have from their own culture," which, he said, is
"typically associated with crime."

The number of criminal code offences went from 7,070 in 2004 to 8,864
last year, including a large increase in drug crimes. The number of
cocaine offences, for example, shot up 106 per cent. While concerned,
several local officials attributed the increases to more aggressive
targeting of drugs by police and increased reports from the public to
the RCMP.

"I think you're always concerned when there are issues of drugs and
crime in any community," said Wood Buffalo Coun. Sharon Clarkson, who
sits on the municipality's protective services committee. But, she
added, "we know there have been a number of drug busts recently.
They're catching more people."

Mike Allen, president of the chamber of commerce, said increased
police presence downtown has made a difference. "I would say that the
police have been far more active in the last year," he said.

Drugs are a fact in a community with high levels of disposable income
but, Allen pointed out, Fort McMurray isn't more dangerous than other

The crime statistics do show a few surprises. The number of violent
crimes, including assaults, went down in 2005. Peter Clark, the local
RCMP superintendent, was encouraged by the numbers but said they may
be partly explained by the way they collect data.

The local detachment changed its computer software in the last year,
leading to possible discrepancies in some statistics, he said.

Clark credited any decreases in violent crimes to more reports from
the public as well as the RCMP's efforts to tackle crimes like family
violence through specialized teams. "My belief is our ability to
investigate those domestic situations is increasing."

Fort McMurray's crime rate of 17,602 incidents per 100,000 people is
much higher than the provincial average of 10,023. Of similar-sized
Alberta cities, we're No. 3 -- just behind Grande Prairie and Red Deer.

Nationally, the crime rate fell by five per cent in

"Overall, it is clear that crime is going up in Fort McMurray," Clark

But many crimes stem from the drug trade, he noted. A drug addict will
sometimes steal to get a fix, for example. "Really, our social problem
is not armed robberies and violence. They're really indicators of the
drug problem."

While Fort McMurray's numbers are high, they sit well below crime
rates in Wood Buffalo's surrounding rural area. There, offences sit at
42,689 incidents per 100,000 people. Clark explained the high rate,
noting it is typically of rural communities in Alberta which, because
the police forces are funded by the province rather than
municipalities, have fewer RCMP officers. He noted, though, the number
of officers policing the rural area from Fort Chipewyan to Janvier is

Pitt argued the rural numbers debunk the "myth that there's some sort
of Shangri-La out there (in the rural area)." It's often in those
areas, for example, that police get shot. "They can be areas of
lethality," Pitt said.

The statistics show that for particular crimes, Fort McMurray is very
high. Impaired-driving offences and drugs are about three times the
national average. For property crimes, though, we're only slightly
above the national rate.

For the most violent crime -- murder -- there is good news. We had one
incident last year, putting us equal to the national average of two
murders per 100,000 people.

Pitt said the murder number was promising and was especially surprised
that the number of assaults against police officers went down in 2005.
"That's against the grain in Alberta," he said, adding violence
against police "is typically an indicator of high rates of disorder."


By the numbers

Comparing Fort McMurray's crime rate to similar-sized Alberta

Grande Prairie 21,077

Red Deer 17,996

Fort McMurray 17,602

Lethbridge 10,578

Medicine Hat 7,412

Note: The crime rate is measured as the number of incidents per 100,000 people.

Percentage changes for select crime categories in Fort McMurray from
2004 to 2005

Overall violent crimes minus 13% Assaults minus 14% Property crimes
plus 17% Impaired driving plus 28% Drugs plus 16% Cocaine plus 106%

- -- source: Statistics Canada Centre for Justice Statistics
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake