On February 19 Police Chief Paul VandeGraaf issued an invitation to have coffee with him at the Dutch Oven on Wednesday evening, March 4. Then on February 20, he issued a statement that “Members of the Cobourg Police Service including Officers, Auxiliary Officers, Special Constables and Volunteers will be present throughout the Downtown core on foot for extra visibility.” (See link below). The Dutch Oven event turned out to be mostly a public Q & A session where Paul (he prefers to be called Paul) explained his view of what’s happening in our Town. His focus was on Downtown (King, Covert, Albert) and the area near Transition House but other concerns were also addressed. The session was scheduled for 5 pm to 7:30 pm and just after 5 there were about 45 people. Although there was free coffee and goodies, few took advantage.
As well as Paul, Auxiliary Police Superintendent Duncan Weller was there as well as Police Board Chair Dean Pepper, Councillor and downtown business owner Adam Bureau and others. Paul confirmed that it was not a coincidence that his statement re more Downtown patrols came at the same time. The downtown patrols will include Uniform officers as well as Auxiliary (volunteer) police. It’s planned to coordinate better with businesses who have CCTV and to have a particular concentration on patrols between 5 and 7:00 pm when shop workers are heading home since now many don’t feel safe.
The format of the evening included one-on-one discussions as well as public Q & A sessions – see photos below.
Key remarks by Chief Paul:
- It’s not an Opioid crisis, it’s an epidemic; it’s primarily a social issue, not criminal, so not primarily managed by police;
- But very often the Police are the “social service of last resort”. Their role is to get help for people and make sure they get connected with the appropriate service.
- Police are overwhelmed and officers are just as tired and frustrated;
- In response to comments that in some cases police did not respond to calls or emails or provide updates. Paul said that “the way you were treated is unacceptable” and there will be changes. He said he was “not happy” and “we have to do better”.
- If a victim does not get a response in 72 hours, they should call the Chief on his cell-phone – 289-251-3476.
- Some in the audience said that although Police responded, they did nothing when told about drug users shooting up or fighting. Paul commented that some amount of fighting between consensual adults is legal and Police cannot convict drug users once the drug has been used – there’s no evidence, it’s in his blood! But he is working with crown attorneys on the issue.
- Homeless people were cleared away from Transition house but moved to the bus shelter. When that was not allowed, they moved to the Victoria Hall Lobby then the Police Lobby. Some even had beer and pizza parties there. But now Chief Paul has insisted that the Lobby may only be used under strict circumstances. These are users who have just been made homeless or who are committed to a Social assistance program. You can’t just decide to live there. As Paul said “we have hardened the Police Lobby”.
- Contrary to stories, although some troublemakers (my words) come from out of town, mostly they are local people.
- The most common complaint was that people don’t feel safe anymore – notably in Downtown areas.
- Police are planning to use e-bikes since they can go where cruisers cannot, are silent and officers can get off them quickly.
- Citizens were concerned about break-ins and car thefts;
- Although recently there has been a definite increase in the level of social disorder, the crime rate has not gone up. In fact the clearance rate is improving.
- Paul asked for a show of hands as to who would like e-reporting. That is, an online way of reporting an incident. Based on the response (I’d guess half those present), Paul said he will implement this idea.
- He also spoke about a heat map showing where crimes occur. The Police already have such a thing but it’s not clear what changes would be made to it. Go here for the current one.
Paul said that he planned to repeat the open house “Coffee with the Chief” every 3 months.
Addendum – March 5, 6:00pm
On the same day as the Chief was conducting the session reported above, at 1:15 pm a 16 year old boy viciously assaulted a 15 year old boy from St. Mary’s high school. The assault took place at the Tim Horton’s located on the Ultramar property on Division Street. The young thug was arrested. (What else can I call him?)
The incident was reported by both Northumberland News and Today’s Northumberland. Get the full story at these links.
- Northumberland News – by Dominik Wisniewski
- Today’s Northumberland – by Pete Fisher – Includes video
- Police report