NDP: Back alley curfew debate a sign more needed to fight causes of crime

NDP leader Ryan Meili. (Herald file photo)

The provincial NDP says the discussion around a back alley curfew in Prince Albert is a sign more needs to be done to prevent the causes of crime.

NDP leader Ryan Meili and Prince Albert Northcote MLA Nicole Rancourt were asked for their thoughts of the bylaw, passed at Monday’s council meeting. It would restrict activity in Prince Albert’s back alleys between midnight and 6 a.m. While it passed 7-2, Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp raised concerns about racial profiling. Other councillors called the issue a “red herring.”

Rancourt said the city chose to enact the bylaw because of pressure felt from citizens.

“Even the police services have indicated that (property crime) is becoming an increasing issue, especially with our addiction problems within the city,” she said.

“When we see people using drugs like crystal meth or harder drugs, they tend to get money through property crime situations, so citizens are feeling very frustrated.”

Rancourt said the bylaw was brought up as a potential solution or an opportunity, for police to have the ability to question people out during the hours that see a higher rate of property crime.

“They’re going to see if this is going to help with crime, and they’re trying to do whatever they can what’s within their means. They can’t afford to have any more police offices. That’s becoming quite costly, so they’re trying to do whatever they can within their means.”

Meili said it’s important that enforcement is handled the right way.

“I hope we’re hearing from the Prince Albert Police Service their plans … we don’t want to see ourselves go down the stop and frisk road. They need to make sure there’s reasonable suspicion to talk to somebody and it’s not just going to be bothering people who are walking down the street.”

Meili agreed there is a role for targeted policing, but he argued it takes more to reduce crime.

“What we heard from police chiefs all over the province … is you can’t arrest your way out of these situations. No matter how many police we have on the street, until we deal with the addictions and mental health problems that are at the root of crime waves across the province … these measures will be insufficient.”

Meili said his party is proposing a “more robust” crystal meth and opioid strategy, including more primary care, addictions prevention and medicine and dedicated mental health and addictions emergency rooms. He also said he would like to see more long-term beds, so people looking to make a change have more than detox and 28 days of care.

“(Twenty-eight days) is nowhere near enough for someone who’s been having a crystal meth use problem. There’s a lot that needs to be done. Until we work on that, until we work on poverty and economic opportunities, on homelessness, police measures will be ineffective.”