Keeping an eye on crime

Inspector Jason Stonechild of the Prince Albert Police Service speaks during a neighbourhood watch meeting at John M. Cuelenaere Public Library on Tuesday. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald.

The first few months of Prince Albert’s neighbourhood watch program have been a pleasant surprise for Peter John.

John, the organization’s president, helped form the group roughly eight months ago after his garage was repeatedly broken into. It’s the first time in more than a decade that Prince Albert has had some type of neighbourhood watch program, and for John, the early success has been a welcome surprise.

“I thought maybe me and a couple of other people would probably hang out and drive around and it would be whatever,” he chuckled. “But the way it’s going, it looks like it’s turning into a little bit more than that.”

Only eight people attended that first meeting, but by their fourth they were up to roughly 30. The meetings led to an increase in neighbourhood cohesion, and their first official patrol, held during the 2017 Prince Albert Exhibition, was a success.

A fundraiser back in October helped the group net about $1,500, which will go towards back alley lighting, and the increased patrols have helped keep some of the less scrupulous elements at bay.

Their efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by Prince Albert City Police (PAPS) either, who welcome the active involvement from the community.

“I think it’s awesome, what they’re doing,” said PAPS inspector Jason Stonechild, who spoke to the group during a meeting on Tuesday. “You look in here and they’re all engaged. They’re asking questions. They care about the community. They care about their relationship with law enforcement. It’s great to see.”

Stonechild said it’s too early to know exactly what kind of effect the neighbourhood watch is having on Prince Albert, although past research has shown the programs are effective at fighting crime when done properly.

A 2009 study by researchers in the United Kingdom showed that more than half of neighbourhood watch programs resulted in a reduction in crime, but the paper’s authors also said more analysis was needed to determine which practices worked the best.

In Prince Albert, Stonechild said the neighbourhood watch can help provide police with “reasonable and probable grounds,” which is necessary for arresting, detaining and obtaining information from suspects. He added that the neighbourhood watch doesn’t just make people feel secure. It also keeps troublemakers on guard.

“The perception that they’re out there and they’re visible makes the residents feel safe,” he explained. “It makes people who don’t belong there feel unwelcome, and that in itself reduces crime.”

So far, patrols are limited to Ward 3, but organizers like John hope to generate interest from across the rest of the city. There are two other wards that have already set meeting dates to discuss expanding the program to their area, while a third is showing initial signs of interest.

The issue has also drawn some support from city council members who see it as a proactive way of keeping Prince Albert safe.

“We’re obviously ahead of the curve in a way, but I’d like to see a convergence of those communities and subdivision where we can collaborate rather than everybody doing it in isolation,” said Ward 3 Coun. Evert Botha, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting. “I think there’s a lot of energy that we can harness and together we can achieve a lot more.”

Regardless of whether or not it expands across the city, John said the program has already been a success. He said it’s brought the people of Midtown Prince Albert closer together, and fostered a tight-knit sense of community that’s already paying dividends.

“We’ve really gotten to know our neighbours. I’ve gotten to know more people in the community in the last eight months than I could have ever imagined. I’m sure lots of other people could probably say the same thing too.”

@kerr_jas •