Drones, stronger neighbourhood watch and an open-door policy for youth part of Morrow’s crime-reduction plan

Mayoral candidate Josh Morrow poses with a drone during the unveilling of his crime prevention platform on Oct. 22, 2020. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Mayoral candidate Josh Morrow showed off a small-scale version of his solution for a large-scale problem Thursday.

Morrow, who is running against incumbent Greg Dionne, former MLA Darryl Hickie and current city councillor Dennis Nowoselsky, stood in the centre of the Alfred Jenkins Fieldhouse, a drone hovering a short distance above his head. As he walked, turned and moved, it followed, tailing and tracking his every move across the soccer field.

For Morrow, drones are the answer to some of the city’s policing problems. Five of them, to be exact. According to a media release issued Thursday, the five law enforcement drones would assist and provide aerial support within the city. The drones would be used to help patrol problematic areas while also assisting in search and rescue and in tracking down someone who has fled on foot.

“This is a cost-effective, innovative solution for a lot of the problems we are facing here today,” Morrow said of the drones.

“We need to start thinking outside of the box. This is absolutely outside of the box. It’s effective, it’s efficient and it will deliver results for the safety and security of our residents. Not only for the police officers themselves but for residents as well.”

Including a drone as part of a law-enforcement response isn’t unheard of.

The debate around the use of drones in policing dates back to at least 2013. Drones have also already been used in Prince Albert in search and rescue operations as a fast, efficient way to survey the riverbank for missing persons.

Morrow, though, sees the drones having additional uses.

He used the Rotary Trail as an example of an area where a drone could patrol to provide “that extra sense of security” in recreation and “problematic” areas.

“If a criminal understands that there is an eye in the sky that is watching out for the residents of the city, for their safety and security, that just in itself will be a deterrent,” Morrow said.

“If the criminal decides that they can hide on a rooftop, the drone will find you in a second. If the criminal decides that they’re hiding in a place that a police officer in a car can’t find, the aerial picture or view will absolutely find them, locate them and that will help the police officers get to that situation a lot quicker.”

Drones, though, come with their own complicated sets of rules and regulations. Licensing and operating are overseen by Transport Canada, as drones share the airspace with planes and helicopters. Morrow, though, said it’s possible to work with those regulations.

When it comes to privacy, he added, it shouldn’t be a concern.

“I think the majority of the citizens want better safety and security,” Morrow said.

“They want more efficiently. They want more effective policing. This has nothing to do with spying on residents. This is specifically to deter criminal activity. If criminals feel they can outrun or out-sneak us any longer, that will come to an end.”

Drones for aerial support were not the entirety of Morrow’s policing and public safety platform.

His first priority would be to rejuvenate a neighbourhood crime watch program.

Morrow argues that more spending on more police officers is not the solution as it’s costly and community involvement would be more effective.

He said he would like to combine current efforts, such as the Midtown Neighbourhood Watch, into a more cohesive body to better support the police service.

“There are a lot of individual groups,” he said. “Bringing everybody together adds so much more strength and support to what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Josh Morrow, who is running for mayor, thinks the city police should explore using drones to help combat crime. (Peter Lozinski/Daily Herald)

Morrow’s second priority is an open door policy for youth. Morrow hopes to speak to every classroom from kindergarten to Grade 12. He said that he strongly believes the city’s mayor must do a better job of interacting with and including the opinions and views of children.

“They need to understand how they can make the difference, they can hold the power of the future and ultimately they can directly impact our city’s escalating crime rate,” Morrow wrote.

He said he will implement a little deputy program where he makes sure that every child and teen within the city understands his office is always welcoming and inclusive for them, “no matter their age, their colour r social status.”

Morrow said he believes children have been “severely overlooked” and he is committed to standing beside them and working with them to make a safer city.

Morrow said he wants to get at the root causes of crime. One of the ways he hopes to do that is by reaching children directly.

“The mayor is the head of the city. The mayor is the face of the city. My approach … will be a family-first approach that has a huge emphasis on children,” he said. “They’re not going to be forgotten because I will make sure that there are opportunities for them to succeed and not fail.”

Morrow also wants to take a more hands-on approach to the board of police commissioners. That’s his fourth priority, after the neighbourhood watch, open door youth policy and aerial support drones.

Morrow said that the city under his leadership will “no longer select or place people within management positions to set them up for failure.

“We need to make sure that the individuals selected are educated correctly, they meet the qualifications correctly, that the police department itself has confidence in the administration.”

Morrow said that for a team to be successful, “you must have absolute confidence in your coach.”

He indicated that isn’t the case in Prince Albert. Morrow alluded to a vote of non-confidence the police union announced in July that showed about 71 per cent of members lacking confidence in chief Jon Bergen.

“I believe the criminals do understand that and they sense a weakness and that’s something that’s been showcased for everybody to see over the last three months.”

Morrow said the board will no longer be about “who you know,” but rather appointed based on qualifications and merit. Morrow said he will chair the board.

“I believe the mayor himself, whoever that might be come November, needs to take full accountability and responsibility for the safety and security of the residents in this city,” he said.

“I don’t believe that passing the responsibility or the blame over the individuals that are a part of the police commission or the police department is acceptable. I would be the one that will take responsibility for the effectiveness and efficiency of the services we’re providing to residents.”