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Townships not immune to uptick in crimes after earlier slowdown, says police chief

Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin hosted a “coffee with the chief” media roundtable Tuesday morning to discuss crime rates through the pandemic. [Damon MacLean]

A recent uptick in crime, particularly violent crimes, followed a slowdown in the number of calls Waterloo Regional Police took in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

Call rates are returning to normal levels at this point, says Chief Bryan Larkin, who held a media roundtable Tuesday morning at the North Division headquarters in Waterloo.

Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin hosted a “coffee with the chief” media roundtable Tuesday morning to discuss crime rates through the pandemic. [Damon MacLean]

“It is no doubt a year like no other with the pandemic. We look at some of the financial challenges that we’re facing, locally provincially, nationally, as well as the social unrest,” said Larkin. “The first 90 days from March through to early June, no doubt, we saw a significant decline in crime, significant decline in calls for service. And we essentially saw our citizens very much obeying community lockdowns by local public health orders, by provincial orders. Now, as we’ve traversed out of that, and even though we’re in the second wave of the pandemic, most recently our call volume has increased to normalized levels. Crime, and in particular violent crime, is something that we’re dealing with.”

The violent crime numbers of late are troubling, he said. This year alone has seen 12 shootings in Waterloo Region: four in Cambridge, seven in Kitchener and two in Waterloo. Recently, there was a string of arsons at three Walmart locations.

Also of concern as continued high levels of drug overdoses in the region, he said.

In 2019, there were a reported 780 overdoses, 63 proving fatal. This growing epidemic is not an issue just in the cities – it also exists throughout the region, including the townships and rural locations. Three calls for overdoses were answered in Wellesley Township, four in Wilmot, nine in Woolwich and three in North Dumfries.

The number of incidents in the townships is beyond what’s been seen before.

“I can tell you previously all of those boxes would be zero. And what it’s telling me is that the challenges of addiction go beyond any specific boundary. They go beyond any special specific neighborhood – opiate addiction doesn’t discriminate. So we’re seeing it impact the rural communities, we’re seeing rural communities in many ways becoming more dense,” said Larkin of the increased numbers in the rural areas.

Also making an impact in the townships are crimes such as break-ins and vehicle thefts, he added.

“We need to be vigilant. We need to actually make sure that we report crime in rural communities. It’s easier if you’re in Elmira, Baden, New Hamburg because it’s more neighborhood-centric, it’s a little more difficult than some of the rural areas where your neighbour may be a concession down the road,” said Larkin.

Areas like high schools are also proving to be grounds for crime in the region, Larkin noted anecdotally. “We have large high schools in both Woolwich and Wilmot, and they’re not immune to issues around addiction. They’re not immune to issues around hate-based incidents. They’re not immune to cybercrime. They’re not immune to some of the challenges that young people are facing. And so, we can’t simply put up our guards to say, ‘well, there’s nothing happening here.’ I think we need to have candid conversation.”

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