The City of Portage la Prairie is as concerned about repeat offenders in the community as other municipalities in the province. Public safety chair and city councillor Sharilyn Knox explains the city funds up to 27 positions, noting there are soft vacancies at times.

Soft vacancies include maternity leave, which has been lengthened from 12 months to 18 months.

"We do have confidence in our team over there and our inspector is making sure they share resources to ensure that the coverage is there when needed," says Knox. "We do know from records that calls are being answered, so that's definitely all that we can ask. We have found over time that we have had more vacancies, and the way I look at it recently, we're lucky that the RCMP has entered into a collective agreement."

Knox explains the collective agreement allows for more equity in wages in forces across the country, noting that the RCMP has had issues in recruiting for those reasons as well as the difficulty that the COVID-19 pandemic caused in shutting down the training centre.

"So, I'm hoping now that things have changed and we're going to see more officers come out of depot," continues Knox. "Then we'll have a full complement here, which is what we need."

The city is affected by funding required to pay the officers, and Knox says Portage falls under the collective agreement. She adds the city recently discussed the issue of back-pay that we've had to pay out. 

"And then, of course, going forward, we have to pay what the collective agreement says," adds Knox. "So, we have budgeted for that to make sure that we are doing that. But we're also looking at cost savings when it comes to our public safety. We're really diving in deep so as to make sure that the citizens of Portage are getting what they need when it comes to public safety and looking at some new initiatives that, hopefully, we'll talk about in the near future."

Knox notes that repeat offenders are an issue, and they're referred to as prolific offenders. 

"We do have a committee that I sit on with the Justice Department with RCMP and the Crown where we meet on a regular basis on this issue," says Knox. "It's been happening for a while and we have seen some changes. The biggest thing is making sure that all of those entities are communicating on this and to know that the RCMP is communicating with the Crown, et cetera. We want to make sure that people in our city don't feel that they're constant victims of crime. We want to make sure that they feel safe, and if they are violated, that something is being done about it."

She explains how you can help to see things improve.  

"Write our Justice Department," recommends Knox. "You can write our federal justice. You can contact me. Send me an e-mail. Send me a letter and tell me how you feel, because the more information I have from citizens, the more information I have to take forward. But it is an issue that I'm passionate about and we, as a council, are passionate about understanding that it is an issue in our city and we're not backing down from it."

The RM of Portage la Prairie also weighs in with Reeve Kam Blight adding that it's been a long-time concern.

"The RM of Portage la Prairie certainly supports our RCMP out of the Portage detachment," says Blight. "They're doing a tremendous job, but we understand and we feel their frustration from having to constantly apprehend the same offenders who committed the same crimes. And it's really unfortunate that there is not the teeth required behind these laws and that these individuals are not incarcerated so that they're actually paying a price, and that there are actually consequences for their unlawful. It's really unfortunate that it's the private citizens and the business owners in the RM and city of Portage la Prairie that have to constantly put up with this unlawful activity that's taking place, and that's basically making them feel very uneasy, unsafe, and it's very costly, as well."

He notes the RM is calling upon the provincial and federal governments to enforce the laws that are there and incarcerate these individuals. 

"If they want to proceed with restorative justice, et cetera, that is fine, but make sure those programs and resources are there to be able to support that, and see that these individuals, once they are captured, are getting that rehabilitation that they're supposed to get. We do not see that happening, and all we see is these RCMP officers going out, risking their lives on a daily basis, arresting individuals and then just seeing them right back on the street committing the exact same crimes."

Blight says the RM is hearing from its ratepayers and notes that social media is filled with crimes such as break and entering taking place in our area, as well as an increase in drug use. 

"This has to stop and we need to put the supports in place," adds Blight. "We're being victimized on so many levels. And we need to make sure that there are consequences for these individuals that are breaking the law." 

Blight says you can contact him as well as our MLA and MP to let them know of your concerns. 

"Anytime you see suspicious activity or you are witnessing a crime and action, please call the RCMP," notes Blight. "They need to document this. They may not always have the resources to get out there, but they need the numbers they need the information to support what's going on. And they need that. So, they need to be notified anytime there's some unlawful activity so they can be documenting this and following up."