As the new Whitehorse city council considers how the city can address property crimes and community safety, city staff have already started looking at what other municipalities across the country are doing to address it.
Coun. Ted Laking brought the matter up under new business at council’s Nov. 8 meeting, highlighting what he said seems to be a recent increase in property crimes. He pointed to an October RCMP press release that highlighted 27 break and enters to business and residences between Sept. 1 and Oct. 3.
“Over the last two months I’ve had a number of conversations with residents of the city about the impacts this increasing crime is having,” he said, describing safety concerns of business owners, women who have told him they no longer feel safe walking to their vehicles and others.
He described it as “a significant challenge” and acknowledged the city’s limited jurisdiction, given that city bylaw officers are not equipped to deal with crime as the RCMP are.
Laking said Whitehorse is in a unique situation as one of the larger municipalities in the country without a municipal police force. Instead, the RCMP is tasked with that work.
“It’s my belief that the RCMP do a … professional job in the city,” he said. “But RCMP’s direct relationship is not with the city.”
The RCMP is contracted by the Yukon government.
Laking believes there is an opportunity for the city to “assert ourselves as the voice and leaders for the citizens of Whitehorse on this topic of property crime.”
He highlighted a number of ways this could be done including working with other governments along with community organizations to find ways to address the issue as a community. He also pointed to environmental design — such as street lighting — that can make a difference as well as looking at the root causes of crime.
He went on to question what the relationship is between the city and RCMP.
Other council members echoed Laking’s concerns, highlighting it as an issue that continued to come up on the campaign trail for October’s election.
Coun. Kirk Cameron described the matter as a topic “near and dear to my heart,” noting he lives downtown and many have noticed the issue escalating recently.
He said he’s also heard from some tourists who have said they don’t feel safe downtown.
Mayor Laura Cabott, meanwhile, said she has already been in contact with the RCMP, and met with the Whitehorse detachment commander last week.
“I’m very encouraged with that discussion, that the City of Whitehorse can and ought to have a closer relationship with the RCMP and others to tackle some of these issues more directly and indirectly,” she said, cautioning that there typically is a spike in property crimes during the fall.
She also noted there are quarterly meetings between the city and RCMP and commented she would like to see work underway that would look into expanding some city services to take some work off the RCMP’s plate, such as enforcing speed limits.
Cabott said she’s also reached out to the territory’s Minister of Justice to discuss the matter.
“I really do think that we have a role in this area,” she said. “And I think that we can make a difference over the next three years.”
Acting city manager Jeff O’Farrell highlighted efforts by administration to look at what other municipalities are doing.
“It seems like the contemporary approach is for municipalities to focus on engagement around community safety and policing,” he said. “We do have in our possession now the engagement strategies of municipalities like Langley and the City of Winnipeg.”
After Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu noted the work of the Canadian Municipal Network of Crime Prevention, O’Farrell said the city recently became aware of the organization and its work.
He pointed out council will soon be working on its strategic priorities for the term and that could help set the direction for the work to be done on it. Other city staff also outlined efforts underway in other areas such as requirements around street lighting, efforts to make recreation programs and events low-cost and accessible to all as a prevention measure and more.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org