Police chief faces flurry of questions about property crime at East Flat Ward Meeting

Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody addresses East Flat residents during a ward meeting on Wednesday, March 6, 2024.

Property crime, drug and alcohol addictions, and homelessness dominated the list of concerns as East Flat residents met for the Ward 4 Town Hall on Wednesday.

The meeting came just days after a string of smashed windows on River Street East where more than 20 vehicles were vandalized between Monday evening and Tuesday morning.

Chief Patrick Nogier was in attendance and spoke for roughly 40 minutes about City-wide efforts to curb crime. Residents peppered Nogier with questions during and after his presentation. Many said they weren’t blaming the police for crime in the area, but were still frustrated with the lack of safety.

“The police do as much as they can,” said local resident Denise Taylor. “These kids or thieves or whatever you want to call them, they go to court and they get nothing.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” she added. “People who do the crimes don’t get a very stiff penalty or anything.”

Taylor was one of several meeting attendees who had their car windows smashed during the recent vandalism streak. She woke up to a text from a neighbour at 4:58 a.m. saying someone had broken into her car and was rummaging around inside.

Taylor said nothing was stolen, but it’s still frustrating to have to deal with the damage. A few residents floated the idea of starting a neighbourhood watch during Wednesday’s meeting. Taylor said that’s something she’d definitely be interested in.

“I think it might help,” Taylor said. “There are things that I heard tonight that I didn’t even know were going on in this end of the city. You get at home, you get inside your own place, and you’re in your own little bubble.”

Finding solutions that lower crime without costing more dollars or further straining the current police force was a common theme during Wednesday’s meeting, although it was one attendees weren’t always happy to hear.

Nogier faced a flurry of questions after saying officers were answering many too calls that were “not criminal in nature.” The police chief told residents some issues were best handled by other agencies, which generated a flurry of questions about who residents could call.

Ward councillors in attendance floated the possibility of including a list of emergency contacts with the next water bill, but nothing has been decided.

Nogier told residents officers were burning out trying to get to every call, and that system wasn’t sustainable. The Prince Albert Police Service has introduced a new priority call response system that Nogier said will give immediate attention to serious emergencies while bumping calls that aren’t as urgent down the list.

In an interview after the meeting, Nogier said East Flat residents had valid concerns about community safety, but stressed they had to take a new approach.

“We knew that it was unsustainable, so we took a second look at it,” Nogier said. “We’ve got the call prioritization that we talked about. We have the alternative call response unit now, and we see that there’s a direct impact where officers have a little bit more time now to do a little bit more thorough job. (They have) a time to breathe, a time to do a little bit of decompression, collect their thoughts, (and) make sure that the investigation is moving in the right direction, rather than just going from call, to call, to call.

“As an administration, we were responsible for setting our members up for failure by just going from call to call to call, not giving them the opportunity to make good notes, not making the opportunity to come back and do a thorough investigation, and just keep pushing, so we’ve made those changes.”

Nogier said Willful Damages Under $5,000 continues to be the most common type of crime in the East Flat. When asked by residents why an officer can’t patrol high-crime areas once every two hours, the chief said Prince Albert doesn’t have enough officers to give one or two areas that kind of attention.

Nogier added that violent crime is down 25.9 across Prince Albert in 2024. Assaults are down 30 per cent, robberies are down 33 per cent, and theft over $5,000 is down 60 per cent. All statistics include crime up until the end of February.

The chief said officers plan to be more proactive about vehicle crime in Prince Albert during the summer. He said there’s a direct correlation between vehicles and crime, so officers will be cracking down on things like speeding and reckless driving.

Nogier said officers will also check up on three different areas as a result of complaints made during Wednesday’s meeting. He also told residents the investigation into the string of smashed windows was still ongoing.

Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody played the role of emcee for Wednesday’s meeting. Like Nogier, Cody said he understands the frustration residents have with property crime, but also said adding more dollars to the police budget wasn’t the solution.

“You can have all the officers you want. If you believe that you’re going to get all the criminals, you’re kidding yourself. That’s not going to happen,” Cody said. “I guess you can curb it with more people, but the City can only afford so much. We have now spent a big pile of money for the police department. I think the police department is doing whatever they can, but I don’t think adding more police officers is necessarily the answer.”

Like many residents in attendance, Cody said he wishes the courts would be a bit more strict with offenders. However, he said it’s up to other levels of government to address that issue.

Ideally, Cody also wants to see more mental health support and addiction recovery centres, which he said would be more effective than hiring more police officers.

“The police can’t handle and aren’t trained for (those calls),” he said. “There’s mental health, addictions, those kinds of things. That’s not police work. That’s mental health. That belongs to the province, and the province should be doing something about it.”

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of two Ward meetings scheduled for this week. The second was held in the West Flat on Thursday evening. The meeting did not finish before the Daily Herald press deadline.