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New CoPPs on the street
Crime, frustration with RCMP lead to Citizens on Patrol

April Hudson
Northern News Services
Thursday, October 29, 2015

Community members in Fort Providence are banding together to form a Citizens on Patrol group in the wake of break-ins and assaults across the community.

The move was spearheaded by resident Linda Croft, who said she has heard enough about elders taken advantage of and young men being assaulted, and learning later RCMP have not charged anyone.

"I'd like it if everybody in the community was involved in some way. Even if they don't want to be part of the citizens patrol, I'd like them just to be aware there are people out there they can ask for help and know there is someone watching - in a good way," Croft said.

She said incidents of violence include beatings so bad victims have had to be medevaced out of the community, as well as a recent stabbing. Additionally, she said, homes have been broken into, including the home of an elder who is currently in hospital.

"I think a program like Citizens on Patrol, if we were out there, maybe we would have seen somebody. The perpetrator might not have been so brave if they knew there are eyes out here," she said.

The group plans to meet with local leaders, including the hamlet's mayor and council.

Deh Gah Got'ie Koe Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge stated in an e-mail the community is trying to address a spate of crime occuring primarily on weekends.

"RCMP basically told us their hands were tied because community (members) were reluctant to provide information and witnesses in follow-up investigations," he said.

"(Croft) is trying to start a community Citizens on Patrol program to address theft, beatings and terrorizing elders. I wonder if the police could have a role in this initiative?"

RCMP Const. Elenore Sturko confirmed there have been incidents of violence in the community over the past few months and said the RCMP supports community-led initiatives to tackle crime.

"If this is something they want to do, the community is welcome to take part in doing patrols," she said.

"Ultimately, if you live in Fort Providence and that's your home, of course you're going to want to be involved in keeping your community safe for everybody. I think it's very positive when we see community members who want to take part in keeping their town safe."

Sturko said some investigations in the community are drawn out, leading to frustration.

"It's a lot easier for us, the more information we get from witnesses ... Many incidents are observed and witnessed by people, including violent incidents. Sometimes, people do hesitate to call," she said.

"Any opportunity where a person observes activity they're concerned about, whether it's violent activity or any type of crime - suspicious activity, even - (call) the RCMP."

Another option for community members is Crime Stoppers, an anonymous helpline where witnesses can report a crime or submit tips.

Croft agreed community members sometimes contribute to the problem of lengthy RCMP investigations and lack of charges, due to a long-held suspicion of police built up from generations of residential schooling and other factors.

"A Citizens on Patrol program will bring everybody together so we're combating (crime) together. Hopefully, then, when (RCMP) say nobody will come forth and speak up, one of us who are out there can be the speaker. Maybe we can say, 'No, no, I saw so-and-so.' "

Before the group gets off the ground, members will have to undergo a screening and application process.

Croft said patrol members would be selected carefully in order to build the group "by the book."

"We're not going out with guns blazing. We're going to be seen, we're going to see things, we will report and we will provide whatever information we collect on an outing to the RCMP," she said.

"No more procrastination. I've been here 11 years and it's not getting better."

RCMP response lacking

On top of witnesses failing to come forward and investigations going cold, Croft said the response of some officers leaves much to be desired, although she said the community has also had some great officers.

On Aug. 1, Croft had an intoxicated man who had been beaten up come to the Snowshoe Inn, which she manages.

He told her he had been jumped by three men and asked her to call police, but after two calls to RCMP, Croft said she was told they would not be coming.

She said she was then advised by an officer to "throw (the man) outside."

Sturko confirmed RCMP had been called to investigate the assault but no charges were laid. She added that the responding officer has taken corrective steps to improve performance.

"All RCMP files are reviewed by a supervisor to ensure they are completed properly, and to review the actions taken by members. In the case of (this) investigation ... the supervisor reviewed the member's response and identified a performance issue," she said.

"The supervisor determined that the member should have responded more urgently and should have done more to address the client's concern for safety."

Croft said she was furious about the situation and thought it showed a gap in RCMP services.

"I feel (RCMP) work for me, for you and the public. And if the public can't rely on you, then we're going to have to take something into our own hands and make this town safer."

The group will have its first meeting Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. in the Snowshoe Inn dining lounge.

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