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Crime Stoppers helping police as Moose Jaw crime rates rise

Crime Stoppers received 224 tips in 2018 and is a valuable resource for the Moose Jaw Police Service

Crime is on the rise in Moose Jaw.

However, the Moose Jaw Police Service believe that the local Crime Stoppers program continues to be a valuable resource in helping them combat crime.

"Sometimes the numbers don't show the whole picture, but we rely on this program a lot and we're very thankful for it," said Moose Jaw Police Chief Rick Bourassa who called Crime Stoppers "invaluable."

Bourassa spoke Tuesday at the Moose Jaw Crime Stoppers Annual General Meeting at City Hall. There it was reported that local Crime Stoppers received 224 tips -- making it the second straight year where they broke the 200-tip mark -- and three rewards were approved, totaling $800, though only one person has chosen to collect their reward.

While the Crime Stoppers hotline remains active, Moose Jaw Crime Stoppers has found the use of social media to be very effective. 

Last year, there were 18 Crime Stoppers Facebook posts that had an average reach of 20,000 people. Those posts asked the public's assistance in identifying an unknown subject of a crime by displaying a video surveillance image or a mugshot of the person being sought. The posts resulted in 10 out of the 18 crimes or wanted persons led to an arrest or a solved file. 

Crime Stoppers received eight tips in relation to the two homicides that police investigated in Moose Jaw last year. 

"We implemented the Crime Stoppers page, probably over the last five or six years and every year it's just gotten better and better," said Sgt. Marlie Frei who represented the Moose Jaw Police Service at the AGM. 

Frei added that their use of social media and the Crime Stoppers page lets the public have some ownership in solving the crimes and being engaged with what the police are actively working on.

"You can post whatever you want, but if the community isn't engaged or they don't care, then it doesn't get very far. But we have a great community that looks at the posts, shares the posts and give anonymous tips," Sgt. Frei said. "We had some tips that came in about the homicides that we had last year. That was a big deal for us."

There were 12 tips that provided a named suspect in a vicious assault that was captured on a VLT camera. There were also 42 tips total that provided information relating to drug trafficking in Moose Jaw.

"The drug information is valuable in building cases in what can often be a more complex investigation," Cst. Sheldon MacNaughton wrote in a report read at the AGM.

Chief Bourassa offers insight

The drug trade and the associated crime around it is a growing concern for the police and other agencies in the region.

"The Crime rate is often a surprise to people. We are not unlike every other city in the province, our crime rate was slightly higher than both Saskatoon and Regina in 2017," said Chief Bourassa in a presentation at the AGM, noting there was a notable jump in 2016. "Most of that crime is property crime and a lot of that was connected to the drug trade."

The instances of violent crime doubled between 2013 and 2016 and Bourassa said that was not out of line with what other communities are seeing nationwide. Crime statistics for 2018 won't be available from Stats Canada until the summer, but Bourassa reported that there were six charges related to possession of methamphetamine in 2017 and that jumped to 25 last year.

"We've heard about fentanyl and all of the issues and the deaths that happened there, but one of the things that was lurking under the radar and has become more and more obvious is Crystal Meth or methamphetamine," Bourassa said. "The trouble that we're dealing with is that it's very inexpensive -- five dollars will keep someone high for a day or two -- and it's very prevalent. The supply is unending and it is coming from a number of different places. It's difficult to disrupt. It's highly addictive and it really leads to violence."

The Moose Jaw Police Service is often trying to more with fewer officers per capita than the other major centres in the province. There are 58 police officers and about 90 employees total in the Service.

The number of police officers per capita are determined using a rate of officers/100,000 residents. By that metric, Moose Jaw (168) has fewer officers than Prince Albert (259), Estevan (235), Saskatoon (191), Regina (188) and Weyburn (184).

"We're a very busy police service. We ask our people to do an awful lot," Bourassa said.

Their jobs aren't getting any easier. There were 15 charges of assaulting a police officer in 2018.

"Generally, cops, we take a lot of abuse. When it goes to laying a charge of assaulting a police officer, it's pretty serious," Bourassa said. 

The affects of the legalization of marijuana was brought up in the meeting and Bourassa was happy to report that so far it's been a non-issue. He called cannabis decriminalization "the biggest nothing-burger since Y2K."

"I think we've had a total of eight complaints and we've written six tickets. It's been a total non-issue. The dispensaries are working really well," Bourassa said. "The legalization of cannabis is likely going to decrease the demands on us. That black market will eventually go away and the violence associated with the black market will eventually go away as well, as they slowly lose their ability to make money off of it."

He said it's too early to say if decriminalization might lead to more impaired driving instances and charges, but that isn't a new issue.

"Let's not kid ourselves, smoking dope and driving isn't something that just started on October 17th," Bourassa said. 

Moose Jaw Crime Stoppers chairman Lyle Johnson noted that the provincial government is once again picking up the full tab for the operation of the anonymous Crime Stoppers phone line and he thanked MLA Greg Lawrence for his help in getting that funding restored.