Pubdate: Fri, 10 Jan 2014
Source: Lethbridge Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2014 The Lethbridge Herald
Author: Dave Mabell


Street drugs are still at the root of crime in Lethbridge.

But prescription drugs continue to be abused as well, says Lethbridge 
regional police Chief Tom McKenzie.

And although public perceptions are changing, marijuana remains a 
concern for police agencies across southern Alberta.

While 2013 statistics have yet to be reported, McKenzie says the 
number of reported crimes has continued to fall. But does that 
indicate fewer are happening, or fewer are reported?

"I suspect it's a blend of both."

Lethbridge regional police responded to 30,325 calls for service last 
year, the chief says, compared with 31,048 in 2012.

But only 30 per cent were calls about criminal activity, with much of 
the rest "quality of life" issues like noisy parties. And of the 30 
per cent, he adds, just seven per cent end up in court.

The number of violent crimes has increased, however, including home 
invasions. McKenzie points to "hard" drug transactions as the cause 
of many of them.

For people living with addictions, he adds, theft may also become the 
way to support their habit.

"They'll steal from their own family members," particularly if they 
know when support cheques arrive. For the same reason, month-ends can 
also see a spike in robberies on the street.

Trafficking in prescription drugs remains a problem as well.

But Canadians are rethinking their attitudes toward use of marijuana, 
McKenzie notes. In Lethbridge, a recent report from the Citizen 
Society Research Lab found nearly 77 per cent of the Albertans polled 
were in favour of its medical use.

And for the first time, a slim majority also agreed with casual or 
"recreational" use of the drug. And southern Albertans showed the 
highest approval rate.

"There are lots of questions about marijuana," he warns, including 
its ability to impair a driver's ability just as alcohol does.

There seems to be no question about its negative effects on 
teenagers' brain development, he adds. But how would users respond to 
its regulation and taxation, in the same manner as tobacco and alcohol?

"It's a big issue for society to talk about," McKenzie says.

On the traffic beat, there's apparently too much talking going on.

Distracted driving is still a serious issue, he observes, with more 
tickets handed out last year - more than 1,600 of them - despite 
ongoing public education initiatives.

"Old habits are creeping back."

Higher fines might be one response, he says, but demerits on a 
driver's licence might prove more effective.

"Losing their licence is a greater fear."

Looking ahead, McKenzie says the police service is adding a "support 
shift" to bolster coverage during the busiest times of the week. It's 
also added more crisis intervention capacity to its "downtown beat" team.

And it will be using a data-directed strategy to direct its resources 
to the places they're most needed.

Uniformed strength has also increased by three, he reported, with 10 
officers - some of them formerly RCMP members - signing on while 
seven have resigned or retired. Half of the 10, McKenzie added, are 
graduates of the criminal justice program at Lethbridge College.

What makes the police force still more effective, the chief says, is 
its close co-operation with Lethbridge fire/EMS and city operations personnel.

"We work together as a strong team."
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