With a recent rise of youth crime in Meadow Lake and the surrounding region, Sgt. Ryan How of the Meadow Lake RCMP has made youth-related crime a focus of the detachment in recent years and that focus seems to be paying off.
“We’ve made it a priority to address youth crime over the last few years,” he said. “We were very optimistic over the last couple of years until this summer, we thought we were making progress, we ran into a unique problem this year, and it took several months to get a handle on it.”
Given recent incidents like manslaughter charges, and the sentencing of a youth uttering threats with a knife, Meadow Lake has seen a slight increase lately, but the focus of reducing youth crime has not changed. One recurring theme with youth is a high amount of property crime offences.
He said this summer’s number of occurrences were directly attributable to a group of six youth who were re-offending, causing tens of thousands of dollars of damage to property, if not into six figures, How said.
“This past summer was particularly bad, and it’s amazing how much damage a small group of youth can do,” he said.
He mentioned this specific group, ranging in ages from about 10 to 14, have mostly been dealt with – some have moved from the area, some have completed their probation orders successfully, and the last couple of the group – made up of both boys and girls – are in custody.
With conditions from the Youth Criminal Justice Act, it is difficult to keep youth in custody for very long, as How said its main focus on holding the youth accountable, but also using it as a way to teach – most consequences of their actions are geared towards being rehabilitative rather than punitive.
“There’s very specific guidelines, so we can’t actually hold them in custody until they’ve reached a certain threshold,” How said. “Generally it’s the frequency, number and the severity of the offences.”
He said overall, the detachment works to mitigate as many factors as possible when it comes to youth crime, but it’s often not police involvement that makes an impact.
“Policing is typically the end result of a lot of factors that have been at play for years,” How said. “An unstable home environment, family factors like drug addiction, alcohol abuse, poverty, that has gotten these kids to the point where they don’t have many options. Peer pressure is part of it, but the big factors are lack of supervision and a stable home life.”
He said the seriousness of some of the cases is also a major concern, and while these cases aren’t as frequent as property crime, Meadow Lake does deal with more serious crimes such as aggravated assaults, stabbings, and everything up to and including homicide.
“We aren’t blind to the fact that kids at very young ages are very violent now and carrying weapons, he said. “It’s different now than even a few years ago.”
How said a group called The HUB meets twice a week to discuss and pool together their resources with high-risk youth. This group has members from Northwest School Division, Corrections, Social Services, First Nations, the City, and RCMP. It follows a model from the Ministry of Justice called Building Partnerships to Reduce Crime.
The detachment attempts to address young offenders include building relationships with the youth and their families, participating in regular school visits, and working with community partners to establish outreach.
“I’m proud of our members for being involved in the schools, How said. They’re in there frequently, sometimes weekly, at least a couple times a month with informal visits and formal presentations. We try to be visible to the kids so they know us by first name.”
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