Peterborough police say residents shared “the truth” during a town hall held Thursday focussing on rising crime in the southeast area of Town Ward.
Approximately 50 people gathered at YMCA on Aylmer Street to discuss crime in the area, notably four shootings — two fatal — between April and July this year. The group listened as the panel opened the discussion highlighting the Peterborough Police Service’s commitment to public safety while acknowledging staffing issues amid increases in calls for service.
Town Ward encompasses the area south of Parkhill Road East, west to Medical Drive, Monaghan Road and south to Lansdowne Street West and east along the Otonabee River, and includes the downtown.
“We, too, are dismayed to see this level of violence,” said Tim Farquharson, acting police chief, who noted much of the increase in crime is originating from the GTA. “There’s no doubt that creates feelings of anger, frustration and fear. The service acknowledges that and understands it.”
He was joined on the panel with Det. Insp. John Lyons, operations division inspector Jamie Hartnett, Peterborough Police Services Board chairperson Mary ten Doeschates and Emily Jones, community development and engagement coordinator.
ten Doeschates noted the board has approved the hiring of eight new police officers.
The service’s 2021 annual report notes calls for service as a whole increased 4.3 per cent in 2021 from 2020 and 19 per cent since 2016. However, an increase in staff on leave has left the service challenged, notes Farquharson, but he says calls will always be answered.
“We can’t respond to the demands, but, saying that, we can’t make excuses,” he told Global News Peterborough after the town hall. “Part of intelligence-led policing is a wise use of limited resources, so we have to use what we have wisely.”
One resident — who identified herself as Noelle — said she moved from Niagara Falls to the area and works as a personal support worker at Trent University. She says the incidents of crime are continuous.
“I see fights, I see needles in the neighbourhood,” she told the panel. “Seniors are getting their houses broken into. We call and you tell us to help as a community. When you do come — and I don’t mean this as any disrespect, I am a PSW and understand about (staffing) shortages — we’ve gotten yelled at (by officers), told to go back to bed in the middle of the night when the stores get windows smashed in, our cars broken in.
“We’re scared, we’re terrified. And it’s every day we’re seeing this, all hours of the night. We have offered our help as a community, many times, to do whatever we can to help law enforcement and the city. But we still haven’t seen the results of that.
“And we’re all onboard in this area. I understand about the community but we matter, too, and so does our mental health.”
Hartnett apologized on behalf of the service if any officers yelled at her or other residents, calling it “inappropriate.”
“We are trying our best right now — maybe our best isn’t good enough for you right now,” said Hartnett. “But we will do our best moving forward. We are challenged with some of the shortages and we’re doing the best we can.”
Another resident inquired about forming a community support group. Lyons noted the success of a Neighbourhood Watch group formed in a new subdivision in the city’s north end near Milroy Drive and Chemong Road.
“They’re trying to make sure they are watching over each other,” he said. “Since it was enacted and signs went up in that community, the rates of car thefts and thefts from vehicles has gone way down.”
Following the town hall, Farquharson said it was an engaging conversation and says the service understands residents’ fear, frustration and anger about the escalating violence.
“It’s hard, we can say we are working 15-hour days — but that doesn’t matter, those people are living it,” he said. “They’re Ground Zero, they’re living it daily. We have to emphasize and tell them we get what they’re saying.”
He said changes and improvement can come with community partners being adequately staffed, leveraging more government grants and adding technology such as automated licence plate recognition technology and closed-circuit televisions which the Downtown Business Improvement Area utilizes in the downtown core.
“CCTV cameras — let’s not get into the discussion of ‘big brother’ right now — every municipality has them; we need them … Those are invaluable pieces of tools that will save officers’ time and recover capacity for us as well.”
Farquharson also said there are a number of crime prevention “strategies” and “projects” underway and that there will be “some good results coming.”
“But we still have so much to do,” he said.
Lyons said the town hall offered residents to share their frustrations.
“People aren’t afraid to speak their minds and tell us the truth — that’s what town halls are about,” he said. “I’ve been to many of them in the past where people are afraid to speak their piece because they’re afraid of repercussions. What I heard here tonight is honest people standing up and saying what they felt. And some of the (service’s) responses they had received, some of it is not adequate. As Inspector Hartnett points out, an apology is never a bad thing, but how can we make it better?
“We don’t know unless we know. If we can get honest and true feedback, we can look inward on what we’re doing and try to find solutions,” he said, noting the service is now “more in tune” with other neighbouring police agencies.