A few years ago northerners felt they didn’t have to lock their doors.
Now, even during the day, some elders rarely leave their homes for fear they’ll be broken into.
And they blame this on rising rates of drug and alcohol abuse, according to a recently released report that consulted northern residents on policing in the three territories.
Property crime, domestic violence and assaults are perceived as crimes with a direct link to alcohol or drug abuse in almost every case.
“Drug users are perceived as desperate for cash or for goods that can be sold in order to support their habits,” according to the report.
Drug, alcohol abuse and related criminal activity has increased significantly in the Yukon over the past few years, said those surveyed.
And residents are frustrated with the police because they think the police are ignoring the problem.
“Most participants in the consultations could cite at least one instance of drug-related violence against someone in their community that was not a drug dealer or user,” the report said.
“I don’t think it was a big surprise that people mentioned drugs and alcohol over and over — with the RCMP we’ve been working on that and this government’s been working on that,” said Yukon Justice crime prevention and policing director Lesley Carberry.
Yukon Justice worked with Justice departments from NWT and Nunavut to co-ordinate the recently released 44-page report, Policing in the Territories.
It is based on community perceptions of crime and safety that were collected during consultations across the North in 2005.
It will be used to guide improvements to the current police service in the North, which is contracted to the RCMP.
Under the agreement, which must be renegotiated in 2012, Ottawa covers 30 per cent of policing costs in the Yukon, while the Yukon government picks up the remaining 70 per cent.
The territory paid approximately $12 million for policing in 2005-06. That’s about 30 per cent of the Justice department’s budget.
It provides staffing levels that run approximately one officer for every 257 residents of the Yukon.
The report suggests that number is not high enough.
“While both community members and police believe there is a shortage of officers at the detachment level, the RCMP points out the resources are not currently in place to assign more officers to the territories,” the report said.
While drug abuse and crime topped the list of concerns raised in the report, issues such as long wait times for service and mistrust of police also ranked high.
“Yukon participants cited instances when a police officer did not respond at all to a night call, even after the caller had fully answered the questions of the Whitehorse dispatcher,” according to the report.
Frequently, Yukoners reported waiting more than an hour for police service in the communities.
Some RCMP officers in the Yukon use “discretion” when deciding how to respond to a call — sometimes waiting until the next day to respond.
Yukoners see this tactic as “insensitive and ineffective policing,” according to the report.
“It became clear in the community consultations the RCMP faces a certain legacy of distrust and misunderstanding … adults often said that as children their parents would point out the local police officer as someone frightening and who should be avoided,” according to the report.
Despite the concerns, it was clear the RCMP is the “police service of choice,” according to the report.
“We’re obviously happy that the RCMP remains the police force of choice with northerners,” said Whitehorse RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Roger Lockwood.
Yukon RCMP has already addressed some of the concerns raised in the report.
“The issues that were addressed in terms of visibility and staffing; those are types of things that we’ve already addressed within our policing plans,” said Lockwood.