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Prince Edward County’s top cop shares some surprising crime statistics

Staff Sgt. John Hatch of the Prince Edward County OPP Detachment. – File photo.

By Sharon Harrison
County seniors learned about increases and decreases in local crime, information about cannabis, porch pirates, mental health, and much more, during a session with Staff Sergeant John Hatch, Detachment Commander with the Prince Edward OPP.

The ’20 Questions with the Commander’ event hosted by the Prince Edward County Community Care for Seniors Association, was the final activity in the 2022 seniors’ virtual active living fair.

Seniors aged 60-plus were invited to ask Hatch anything they might want to know about. Questions also surfaced about OPP staffing, the problematic junction at County Road 1 and 62, the Glenwood Cemetery vandalism, the false alarms registry, and improper actions at crossovers by motorists.

Hatch also provided some statistics on how the County is faring when it comes to fraud, violent crime, sexual assault, domestic violence, impaired driving, and break and enters, among others, something he provides on a monthly basis to the municipality’s Police Services Board.

Here he noted some good news, as well as problematic areas that may need more dedicated resources, or a different approach.

In eastern Ontario, there are 16 OPP detachments, PEC’s is one of them. Forty officers work in the PEC OPP detachment, from the crime unit, to front-line officers, to court staff.

How many officers are working day shift today? The answer is five: a sergeant and four constables responding to calls, doing RIDE programs, traffic stops and answering calls.

Hatch noted that due to the growing population in Prince Edward County, the PEC OPP detachment is going to be getting about five additional officers, an increase of about 10 per cent, in the next three to five years.

“I think that is going to be reasonable given our population in the County is going to be increasing 30 to 40 per cent in the next five to 10 years with the influx of people coming in,” he said.

The good news is violent crime and property crime numbers are down in the community.

Violent crime (characterized as a fight at the high school, domestic assault, a bar fight, etc,) is down 20 per cent.

“In terms of assaults, in total, we have averaged 117 assaults a year (about two a week); in 2021, we had 92, so we are down about 20 per cent,” said Hatch.

He noted one area that is doing well in decreases is property crime, which is broken down as break and enter, mischief and thefts.

Break and enter number were down 51 per cent compared to the previous seven years.

“In 2021, we only had 37 break and enter incidents that we had to investigate, compared to 76 over the course of the last seven years.”

Mischief-related incidents were down 27 per cent from 2021.

“The reason why that is, in my opinion, is in 2018, our detachment implemented a community street crime unit, with two plain-clothed officers dedicated full-time doing surveillance on people doing drugs or break and enters, and that’s why our property crime statistics are really good.”

The bad news, he said, is that reported fraud, impaired driving and sexual assaults in Prince Edward County have increased in the past year.

Speaking to sexual assault investigations, Hatch noted a 53 per cent increase, with 37 investigations undertaken in 2021 – the average is about 24 per year (about two a month).

He cited the ‘Me Too’ movement as something that has encouraged victims to come forward, even if the assault happened a number of years prior. He noted one-third of reported sexual assaults were historical, i.e. at least one year old.

“That tells me the victims – they are old and young, male and female – are having the confidence to come forward and share their stories and get the supports they need, so that the accused is dealt with properly.”

Another area where the numbers are trending in the wrong direction is with fraud-related investigations, up 71 per cent, with 149 frauds investigated in 2021 (about a third of victims lost money).

Hatch said he wants that number to be zero, something that can be done through education.

“These frauds, these scams, they are getting very sophisticated and very real and we will continue educating the public.”

He reminds: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

The OPP encourages people to report fraud, or attempted fraud, noting nine out of 10 people who are victims don’t report because they are embarrassed.

“What we want to do is put out a media release to say these are the scams going on right now, these are the targets, so beware; educate yourself and your family members and make sure you don’t fall victim to these frauds.”

The other huge area of concern in the County according to Hatch is impaired driving.

“Over the course of the last seven years, we have had 39 impaired drivers, almost one a week,” noted Hatch. “In 2021, we had 48, a 24 per cent increase.”

In 2022, there have already been 69 impaired driving convictions, up 75 per cent, something Hatch says may be COVID-19 related as people’s habits changed, but he also attributes the higher numbers to his officers for being on the roads at one, two or three o’clock in the morning.

“They are patrolling the roads, stopping these cars, and we are pulling these impaired drivers, where maybe 10 years ago, we weren’t as pro-active, or we didn’t have the staff and we weren’t able to get those impaired drivers off the road.”

Hatch spoke to the area of mental health incidents, noting the figures are trending upward (140 calls last year), where he received a question on whether a special task force was involved.

In July 2022, the PEC OPP implemented IMPACT (integrated mobile police and co-response team), which Hatch says has “revolutionized policing”.

“We have two front-line workers, who work with the Mental Health Association, and if we get a call from someone with a mental health crisis, officers go to scene, de-escalate the scene, and the two mental health officers will be called, and maybe we don’t have to apprehend that person, or put them in handcuffs.”

He said since implementing IMPACT, the number of apprehensions have decreased, the number of apprehensions requiring a hospital visit have decreased by 80 per cent.

“What that does… It doesn’t traumatize that person who is going through the mental health crisis; it doesn’t tie up two officers who have to wait at hospital, and the IMPACT workers can follow-up with the person the next day.”

Another question posed to Hatch was, “What does our OPP generally get calls for?”

Hatch said by far the most calls they receive relate to traffic complaints, such people driving too fast, vehicles travelling all over the road, etc. In 2021, the PEC OPP had 645 traffic complaints, almost two a day.

“I want those calls,” said Hatch. “If you suspect somebody is driving impaired, call 911 because we have an impaired driving problem in Prince Edward County.”

If the public wishes to report a suspected impaired driver, the OPP would appreciate a licence plate number, the make and model of the vehicle, and the direction of travel (if it’s practical and safe to do so).

“Most of the time, it’s just someone not paying attention, maybe they are on their phone, they may be tired, it could be somebody who is elderly and a little bit confused, but at least it is the opportunity to stop that car.”

The second highest number of incidents they attend are property damage/motor vehicle collisions, at 349 last year, almost one a day, and include car versus deer, two vehicles in a parking lot, a snowy day with vehicles sliding into the ditch, for example.

Hatch says typically on the first snowy day, usually in November, they will attend to 10-15 collisions that day because people aren’t yet used to the driving conditions.

Number three of top calls is for false alarms, of which there were 316 in 2021.

“That’s a problem because we have to send two officers to every alarm call.”

He said they are looking at implementing a false alarm registry in Prince Edward County where the two false alarm calls are free, with subsequent false calls incurring a fine. Hatch notes 99.9 per cent of alarm calls are false.

“The idea is we want these business owners and home owners to have more responsibility, so we don’t have to drive down to Cressy or up to Carrying Place to respond to that alarm that is going to be false anyway.”

Fourth on the list of calls is domestic violence, of which they attended 260 calls last year, with more than 50 resulting in charges. These include husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend and same sex partners.

“What we want to do, working with the high schools and with Alternatives for Women, victim services and public health, is to educate and inform, especially the youth about healthy relationships and what is acceptable and what is not acceptable,” Hatch explained. “Unfortunately, the youth in this day and age, because of the cell phones, they cross the lines with sexting and bullying, so we need to educate the youth, because the police could be involved and there could be charges.”

Hatch also spoke to mischief-related crime which decreased a little, but they still responded to 99 mischiefs, examples of which may include throwing a rock and breaking a window, smashing a phone/ breaking a wall,/cracking the television in a domestic violence incident, damage to rural mailboxes using a baseball bat, and the like.

One of the questions Hatch answered related to the extensive damage done at the Glenwood Cemetery in 2018, where he was asked what sentence the teenagers get who caused the damage.

Hatch confirmed the community street crime unit, new at the time, were able to get a description from someone walking by the cemetery, confirmed by a local establishment who had video which identified the two 16-year-olds.

“Charges were laid, dozens of mischief charges, and in terms of the sentencing, because they are youth, they were put on one year probation with certain conditions, and they also had to do 80 hours of community service,” explained Hatch.

“Some people may argue that isn’t enough, right or wrong, with the justice system that’s the way it is, especially with youth, that’s what we are dealt with,” he said. “That is the way our legal system in Canada right now is set up.”

Someone asked if the OPP had noticed any changes of behaviour or criminality since cannabis shops have opened up in Picton?

“We don’t have the data to show that it is causing any problem in society at all, and it hasn’t increased our impaired driving statistics,” Hatch said. “The opening up of the cannabis shops hasn’t affected policing at the local level.”

While the impaired driving stats are up, Hatch says 99.9 percent of those relate to alcohol, not because of cannabis.

Hatch then spoke to crosswalks in Picton from a question he received from a participant. He revealed he conducted an informal experiment at the four crossovers on Picton Main Street (by the Community Centre, Regent Theatre, Metro and Giant Tiger). He reminds crossovers have yellow flashing lights above when the user presses a button to cross. Crosswalks on the other hand can be found at intersections with traffic lights.

Once the button has been pressed at a crossover, the user has 16 seconds to cross the road.

Hatch noted the average person takes five or six seconds to cross, but those with a cane or a walker take a lot longer.

“As I was doing this, I was blown away by how many people didn’t press the button and just walked across. One man didn’t even look. You are supposed to press the button and put your arm out so that the vehicles can see that you are about to cross the road. Not even half the people did that.”

He also notes that by law, when someone presses the button and walks across the road, vehicles are not supposed to go through that crosswalk until that person has reached the other side safely.

“In 75 per cent of the cases I watched that day, the person was three-quarters the way across when a vehicle was going through.”

He said there needs to be more enforcement as it’s a safety issue, but he also noticed many jaywalkers during his experiment, zipping between vehicles on Main Street.

“It was really eye-opening for me and really discouraging. This is winter, so think what’s going to happen in the summer,” he added.

Driving licence renewal and plate permit renewal were also mentioned, where Hatch reminded the public to take the time to check when their driving licence expires. He also mentioned the plate permit renewal which, since there is no longer a fee to renew each year, has confused some people because they think they don’t need to renew it.”

“You still have to go online and renew your licence plates, they can expire and it’s a big misconception that people think because you don’t you have to pay anymore, you don’t have to do anything, but that’s false.”

The next question asked, ‘what precautions are in place to help with the safety of winter riders (snowmobilers, four wheelers) on the Millennium Trail?’

Hatch said from an OPP perspective, the OPP don’t have a lot to do with the Millennium Trail, but they do have an officer who liaises with the Trail Committee and the municipality who deals with speeding and other issues.

The question of a roundabout at County Road 1 and Highway 62 came up where Hatch noted the Ministry of Transportation is undertaking an environmental assessment.

“What should happen at that intersection?” Hatch asked. He said they would like public opinion or to hear concerns, which can be voiced at https://www.hwy62pec1.ca/

Next, came the topic of “target hardening”.

“I want to make it difficult for you to get broken into. I want to make it difficult for people to steal stuff from your cars.”

In 2019, there were 27 thefts from motor vehicles; in 2020 there were 19, in 2021 there were 25, this year, there have only been nine reports.

“We are promoting ‘lock your vehicle, lock your house’” where Hatch credits recent education programming for the decrease.

He also spoke to the packages and parcels in brown boxes delivered to homes and the so-called ‘porch pirates who steal packages.

Hatch recommends the use of cameras, noting numerous companies sell them and a whole house can be outfitted for $300-$400.

“You can have 24-hour surveillance of your front porch, on your driveway, on your garage, inside your house, and everything is monitored by a cell phone. It’s target hardening.”

He said people who have cameras installed on their property can register with camsafe.ca if they are willing to share footage with the OPP when an incident occurs nearby.

“We will call you up, tell you there was a break-in across the street yesterday and would you be willing to share your footage to help us with our investigation,” he explained. “For us, it’s a whole bunch of eyes in the sky. It’s not big brother; you can always say no, but it helps to keep our community safe.”

Hatch also mentioned that the PEC OPP detachment introduced the use of body cameras this summer, something Hatch describes as “revolutionizing policing”. He noted too that cameras are also installed in the cruisers.

“Our complaints have dropped substantially, because if the bad guy knows that everything is recorded on camera, he can’t make something up. The clarity is amazing and it’s really helping us with our investigations.”

Hatch wants Prince Edward County to be one of safest communities in the province, and he recognizes the OPP can’t do it alone, so he is looking for feedback and is happy to hear from people directly on what they would like to see from the OPP in 2023.

Any comments, suggestions or opinions on anything, but especially about photo radar, can be directed to Staff Sergeant John Hatch at john.hatch@opp.ca.

Community Care for Seniors, a not-for-profit organization, has been helping older adults (aged 60-plus) live independently in Prince Edward County since 1977 offering an extensive range of services from hot meals, escorted transportation, recreation and social activities, among them.

Monthly active living programs change every month and include a range of programming, such as interesting talks, exercise programs, musical and arts activities and more. Check them out at communitycareforseniors.org, or call 613-476-7493.

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