By all indications, the holiday season was quiet and peaceful in the area according to the Rimbey Detachment of the RCMP.
“It went really well,” said Cpl. Ian McLean. “We had only one arrest and five New Year’s related calls starting at about 7:30 p.m. on December 31, and ending at about 3:11 a.m. on January 1.”
Those calls included one roadside 24-hour suspension, one charge of an attempted theft of a vehicle and three charges stemming from alcohol-related disputes or disturbances.
Asked if he thought the relatively low number of charges was the result of a heightened awareness by the public of the dangers and ramifications of impaired driving, McLean said no due to the fact that the numbers are actually up.
“No. We worked very hard this year on impaired driving and our impaired drivers are up over 50 per cent from last year,” he said. “In fact, this is the most successful operation we’ve had for impaired drivers. That was part of our plan to eliminate fatal alcohol-related motor vehicle collisions. I’m proud to say it’s January 2 and we didn’t have any for a full calendar year plus. We’re at about 18 months without a fatality caused by impaired driving.”
McLean contributed the recent success to both an increase in manpower at the local Detachment and some much-needed help from some very active young people in the community.
“I think it is because we’ve concentrated far more enforcement in the last two years then we ever did before. We’ve made a concerted effort to have more officers on the road doing that kind of thing, We’re not looking to drive by the bars and let people know not to drink and drive, we’re looking to drive by the bars and if you’re in the car starting it up and you shouldn’t be, you’re going to be charged. That’s all part and parcel with what we had to do to get the bad numbers down this year,” he said.
“We also had the SADD members (Students Against Drinking and Driving) work very hard on the prevention with us and we had other groups, employers etc. who have helped us with the education,” McLean added. “But come the holiday season, it’s the most advertised law there is and people are aware that they do not want to ruin their holiday season with an impaired driving charge. This is the one time of the year in the 34 years that I’ve been a police officer, that you can count on people actually being aware of their drinking and driving. Having said that, we did get four impaired drivers in the month of December, we just didn’t get them on Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve.”
In other words, while the numbers are up, the message is starting to get through and McLean estimates it may take a while, but eventually the numbers of impaired driving charges will drop.
“Our impaired driving numbers are up because we’re looking to catch them, and we work much harder at that,” he said. “I think you’ll see a reduction in impaired driving in 2008, although our enforcement will stay as strict.”
McLean said the Detachment devised a strategy two years ago to get the numbers of impaired drivers down beginning with a pledge to record no alcohol-related fatalities within one calendar year. Now that they’ve achieved that goal – along with the hope that they extend that period much longer, they’re on to the second and third phases of the plan which are to eliminate any impaired driving charges for anyone under the age of 25 and to drastically reduce impaired driving all together.
“The bulk of our impaired drivers are males in their 40’s, and that’s a huge percentage, but some of the older guys like my age that are set in their ways, don’t see the harm,” he said. “But we’re going to work on the youth first and then we’ll move up from there. Our kids have been great for our community, so I’m not worried about the message not getting through to the older people – we’re going to have the younger people being an example for them, and I think that’s going to work.”
McLean said the strategy doesn’t have anything to do with young people per se, but is a result of the fact that the under 25 age group is where most fatalities occur, most likely because they tend to be out a little longer and drive a bit faster resulting from a confidence level that is inherent with youth.
‘Our second goal – and this is the difficult one, is to pick up no one under the age of 25 years for impaired driving,” he said. “Now if that’s ruined this week then that’s the way it is, but we’re shooting for zero to start with and then we will try to keep the percentage down for young people.”
Having said that, McLean was very quick to point out that it certainly does not mean drivers over the age of 25 should expect any sort of break whatsoever.
“We’re not giving anyone over the age of 25 a pass by any means,” he said. “They’re the bulk of people that are being charged but we have to have our plan go a certain way and we want to reduce the number of impaired drivers that are under that age this year, then we’ll increase the age. But there’ll be no passes on impaired driving at the Rimbey Detachment.”
As for other criminal activity in the area over the past 12 months, McLean said in most cases it all comes down to money and/or those who either have it or don’t.
“The town is growing, we’re in that economic corridor where most of the action is, there’s more disposable income for things like liquor consumption, and there’s a larger separation between the ‘have people’ and the ‘have not people’”, he said.
“An awful lot of times young fellows come out here – usually from the east, and there’s no family around and no parental supervision – which shouldn’t matter for someone who’s 21 or 22 years old, but they’re left here on their own,” McLean added. “They work way too many hours, they make lots of money and they get themselves into trouble that they probably wouldn’t if they had a little bit of guidance. Now that doesn’t mean that everybody who comes here from the east is a bad person, it’s a circumstance that goes with the economic conditions.”
Also of note, McLean said while traffic collisions are down a bit from last year, law enforcement is up considerably with 30 per cent more tickets being issued in 2007 than there were in 2006 – attributed for the most part, to the addition of Constable Daniel Kenny in the late summer of last year.
He also said he expects to see the numbers of both criminal activity and enforcement to level off, but cautions that due to such a high rate of traffic, it may take a while to see the effects on Highway 20 south of the community, but they’re working on it.
“They say there’s never a cop around when you need one, but our statistics show that we’re out there,” he said.
McLean also took the time to touch on one last issue that is currently on the front burner not only in Rimbey but also throughout Alberta – that being the new smoking legislation that came into effect on January 1.
“We’ve had no complaints about it at all and we expect that everyone will comply with the laws especially the five metre rule,” he said. “We expect to see people standing a reasonable distance from the door when their having their smokes, and like I said before, if it’s 4.9 metres from the door we’re not going to be picky, we just want something reasonable that respects the law.”
Having been through the entire process while stationed in Saskatchewan where they imposed a province-wide smoking ban three years ago, McLean had some comforting words for those in the hospitality industry.
“I think that you’ll find that people are going to enjoy it. You’re going to see some of the business in local bars and restaurants change and you’ll see people enjoying an atmosphere where there is no smoking,” he said. “You’re also going to see smokers congregating outside, but it’ll all work out.”