New RCMP foot patrol launches this summer in Iqaluit
“Opening lines of communication will empower them to take back a bit of ownership”
This week, RCMP boots hit the dirt in Iqaluit to begin a new summer foot patrol.
Staff-Sgt. Garfield Elliott walked along Federal Rd., up Queen Elizabeth, on the afternoon of Wednesday, July 11, stopping at businesses along the way and introducing himself to passersby.
According to Elliott, the idea behind this approach is to increase police visibility in Iqaluit, improve trust in the community and help create a variation of a neighbourhood watch program in which citizens can feel more comfortable and safe contacting police when in need of help or when others are in distress or danger.
Elliott suggested the idea at the June 26 city council meeting, when he presented an RCMP report about crime statistics for the first half of 2018.
At that meeting, he explained that May had been “a very difficult month for the detachment” when it came to violent crime, including two recent homicides.
He also said that foot patrols would make it easier to do preventive policing, by which officers direct people to programming and otherwise let them know where to find help. At the June meeting, Elliott said that he would like to see the police showing compassion to people who are in a difficult spot rather than simply “scooping them up” in an arrest.
“Opening lines of communication will empower them to take back a bit of ownership,” Elliott said of the city’s residents at the June 26 meeting.
He wants the community to see the person who is behind the RCMP uniform―and for the officers to get to know the public.
Elliott hopes that by having at least one police officer out on the streets two or three times a week, Iqaluit residents will start to feel encouraged to make a phone call when they see disputes break out or when crimes occur in a public place, or to make a call before violence has the chance to escalate.
In June 2017, Staff-Sgt. Matco Sirotic told city council that the city and territory have a “high crime severity index” and that the most detachment time is spent responding to calls about assault and domestic violence.
It’s not uncommon for the Iqaluit detachment to have two calls sitting in the queue while members are responding to a third, “which sounds like a big city setting,” Sirotic said in June 2017.
This time last year, the call volume on these issues was down from previous years, but still quite high with 263 instances of assault and 34 sexual offences.
However, in the second half of 2017, the numbers of these types of crime more than doubled to 627 assaults and 71 sexual offences over just six months. The beer and wine store opened in Iqaluit during this period.
In April of this year, Nunatsiaq News reported that Elliott told city council that the total increase in crime since then had been “marginal” and that the RCMP was considering a review to better understand the impacts the wine and beer store may have had on crime in Iqaluit.
Elliott said that in April he was referring to crimes in general that had been increasing marginally and was not focusing on any particular categories.
He said he is not in a position to say if there is a direct link between the beer and wine store opening and the rise in calls because the store has been open for just under a year.
However, he is working on a report to compare statistics on crimes over the years, to see what factors might be behind some categories of crime.
“High rates of assault and sex offences have been the case since I started working in the territory in 2010—that doesn’t mean we don’t try to change those things,” said Elliott.
During the first half of 2018, there were 374 reported cases of assault and 44 reported sexual offences, which is slightly lower than last year’s numbers but still higher than in previous years.
The need for foot patrols—and for encouraging residents to contact police when there are warning signs of violence—followed from specific acts of spousal abuse in May. These had escalated in severity before the police were contacted. By then it was too late.
“That kind of evolved into the discussion about a neighbourhood watch,” Elliott said.
It isn’t realistic to think that the alcohol problem in Iqaluit will be solved immediately, he said. It will probably take a few years, he added. But if witnesses start to feel more comfortable contacting police at earlier stages of a crime, it might help reduce or prevent escalation.
When Elliott stopped at a dental office to say hello and introduce the concept of the foot patrol to the employees on Wednesday, receptionist Keri Bugbe said it was “very cool to see”.
Just in the last few months, she had to call the RCMP twice during the day to intervene when she saw someone drunk and running through traffic.
“I’d seen you walking a few minutes ago just down there and I go, ‘Hmm, I’ve never seen police doing foot patrol here.’ Maybe down south you see that sometimes, but never here,” Bugbe said.