By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Although crime rates across Durham Region are down in comparison to historical levels, a steady increase over the past two years is something Durham Regional Police Chief Paul Martin says he’s well aware of.
Martin addressed regional council at its most recent meeting, presenting a synopsis of criminal activity in the region in 2017.
There were nine homicides in Durham last year, and one already this year, the fatal stabbing of an Oshawa teenager on Jan. 11.
Martin, noting that Durham has usually averages between four and six homicides a year, said 2017’s numbers are worrisome to him.
“We’ve already had our first homicide of 2018. Obviously, the increase is a concern, and I’m hoping this is not the beginning of a trend,” he said.
The amount of calls the DRPS addressed has continued to hover around 90,000.
“We are busier, or as busy, as ever,” Martin commented.
Although he did not delve far into the topic of budgets, Martin said it’s been “almost a decade” since DRPS significantly increased the number of front-line officers to its ranks.
“I think the time is now,” he stated, adding that while he feels “the officers are doing an outstanding job of serving the community”, there are stresses faced by officers today that simply didn’t exist in the past.
According to Martin, a number of criminal activities both increased and decreased in 2017.
Assault with weapons, break and enter, fraud, and motor vehicle collisions with injuries were down, while incidences of assault, sexual violence and theft all increased from 2016.
Martin said that while robberies were up 17.5 per cent, a large number of these could be attributed to two brothers facing a combined 66 charges for carjacking/robbery incidents in Ajax.
“Fortunately, I can say those offenders are off the streets.”
Fatal motor vehicle collisions, collisions with property damage and dangerous operation charges were relatively equal between 2016 and 2017. The DRPS initiated its annual Festive RIDE program during the holiday season, which resulted in 12,500 vehicles being checked and 112 charges laid. Although police stopped 800 fewer vehicles in 2017, they arrested 13 more motorists than in 2016.
“Unfortunately, some of our residents are not getting the message,” he said.
Looking ahead to 2018, Martin said the biggest challenge facing DRPS is the pending legalization of marijuana on July 1.
“The clock is ticking as to whether we’ll have enough time and information to train our people, and also to see if there will be any money coming to offset the time it takes to train,” the chief said.
Martin says “significant changes” will be coming for police through Bill 175 (the Safer Ontario Act), which the Ontario government has called “the largest policing and public safety transformation in a generation.”
Some changes within the proposed act include giving municipalities a larger role in “defining and addressing local needs”, and the creation of an Inspector General of Police with a mandate to oversee and monitor police services and police services boards.
“We are waiting to see how that will play out. I’m anxious to see the answers in the coming days,” Martin says.
Because Martin’s appearances in council chambers are not a regular event, councillors approached the chief with a plethora of concerns.
Oshawa Councillor Amy McQuaid-England admitted she was disappointed with what she called a lack of information regarding violence against women and human trafficking.
Martin explained his report was meant to provide “a very high overview” to councillors.
“We haven’t talked about drugs, gangs or several other issues,” he stated.
However, Martin explained he would certainly provide further information on McQuaid-England’s areas of concern.
“We’ve taken it very seriously,” he said, adding the DRPS will be joining the OPP and other municipal services on a provincial strategy.
McQuaid-England said three of Durham’s homicides in 2017 were “as a result of violence against women.”
She asked what she and other councillors can do as elected officials, as well as members of the public, to address this.
“I’ve heard we live in a very safe community, but I feel the women in this community don’t share that view,” McQuaid-England said.
Martin says the DRPS would like to “change that cycle”, and says it is imperative that acts of violence against women are reported to police.
“There is very little we can do when it’s not reported to us, and we can’t bring those responsible to justice.”
McQuaid-England also questioned what local police were doing in terms of public awareness in “priority-needs neighbourhoods”, especially those in south Oshawa.
The Oshawa councillor says DRPS ran door-to-door campaigns to communicate with residents in “middle-to-upper level income neighbourhoods”, and wondered if the same was being done in less affluent areas.
“Some of the comments I’ve heard [these lower-income neighbourhoods] already have a police presence, and it’s a reactive presence,” McQuaid-England said.
Claiming there may be some “distrust” of police in these neighbourhoods, she believes “seeing individual officers in a non-confrontational way may change that.”
Martin said DRPS could review their education and awareness efforts in the neighbourhoods McQuaid-England mentioned, and perhaps initiate similar programs.
In regards to human trafficking, Martin said officers speak with local students, the most likely targets, in an attempt to educate them on avoiding becoming victims.
Police have also worked closely with hotel and motel managers, owners and operators along the Highway 401 corridor, a known spot for youth human trafficking and prostitution rings, to educate them on how to “know the signs of human trafficking.”
“I’ve been told it has paid dividends as we’ve gotten information [from those sources],” Martin said.
Ajax Councillor Shaun Collier voiced his concern about traffic violations, asking the chief his opinion on the potential use of red light cameras in the region.
Martin says he is personally “a little bit undecided” on evidence regarding the effectiveness of red light cameras.
“The evidence is much more compelling that photo radar is successful,” he said.
However, the chief said the impetus is on municipalities as to whether they want to employ tactics such as red light cameras or photo radar.
“As a police service, we are not a municipality; we can’t engage that. If a local municipality wanted it, we’d certainly do our best to support that.”
For Martin, while road safety is definitely a “top priority”, he explains that police simply cannot be everywhere at once.
“The resources, in all honesty, are limited. We have to prioritize where we go,” Martin said.
“We have hundreds of thousands of kilometres of roadway [in Durham].
“We just don’t have the manpower…to deal with every intersection and every roadway.”
DRPS must take on a similar approach when it comes to building relationships with young people in Durham.
School liaison officers and after-school programs are a few of the ways officers connect with students, Martin said.
“Yes, we could always do more and if we had more resources we would do more. Much like the discussion around traffic operations, we have to prioritize around some of the vulnerable areas and schools, but it’s not all we do.”
Overall, Martin says Durham residents have shown “high satisfaction” with the performance of DRPS and the overall safety of their communities, but there is always “areas that can be addressed.”
Pickering Mayor Dave Ryan, serving as a chair of the meeting with Roger Anderson absent, said DRPS and its officers should be commended.
“You deal with, frankly, just some bad people. We thank each and every one of you,” Ryan said.