ALMA – Educating the public on the dangers of texting while driving will continue to be a priority for local RCMP in 2014, says its staff sergeant.
Sgt. Steve Halliday led the discussion during a community meeting Monday at Northumberland Regional High School during which time he acknowledged that education may be the best defence in teaching people about the dangers of driving while distracted.
“This is a whole new generation and a whole new issue we are facing,” he said. “We have to start from scratch. We have to condition the kids to turn their phones off and show them it’s not worth the $250 fine.”
RCMP Const. Shane McNeil, who is Northumberland’s school resource officer, said some work has already begun to educate students about the dangers of texting and driving, but there is much more to be done.
He recently had statistics that show if a person is travelling 88 km/hr and texts for four seconds, they could cover the length of a football field without lifting their head.
McNeil said media campaigns are in place as well as the beginning of a youth advisory group allowing students in grades 8 through 12 to make presentations to younger students on such issues as texting and driving.
Halliday said road safety has been a provincial and local priority for the RCMP in the past year and distracted driving is a big piece of the pie.
In 2013-2014, the Pictou County RCMP laid 113 distracted driving charges, 34 impaired driving charges and 750 traffic related charges.
Halliday said provincial statistics show that distracted driving is now the number-one cause of accidents on Nova Scotia’s highways.
Yet, he admitted, it is very difficult for police officers to determine if someone is texting and driving because they can’t always get a clear view of the phone.
“We know their head is down, but we can’t always see them actually texting,” he said.
Halliday said road safety was a big issue last year, but local RCMP also focused their attention on domestic violence and crime reduction.
He said all of the Pictou County RCMP officers have taken special training to help deal with domestic violence situations and community presentations were completed in local schools. The RCMP has also formed a partnership with the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board that reaches out to young people beginning the relationship stage.
“The presentations give the kids strategies on ways to deal with it before it becomes an issue,” he said.
Lastly, Halliday said, Pictou County RCMP have been looking at ways to reduce crime in the county by determining how officers can better spend their time on the job.
For example, he said, a local program that houses teenagers in need of supervision was demanding a lot of the RCMP’s time in the past because its own policy was to report a teenager missing if they didn’t make curfew or report that they were leaving the home.
He said every call was treated like a missing person’s case and ended up using up a lot of manpower and resources when it wasn’t always necessary.
After speaking with the program’s administrators and working out a resolution to the problem, the RCMP was able to reduce the number of calls coming in to the program by 49 per cent in one year.
“Now our officers can focus on other things instead of going to the same place time after time,” he said.
In addition to this, Pictou County RCMP also increased conditional sentence order checks to make sure people who were serving house arrest were complying with their court orders.
He said the RCMP believe this initiative has helped reduce property crimes by 38 per cent last year because people who committed crimes are in their homes rather than running the risk of re-offending.
In addition to the CSOs, the RCMP have been working collaboratively with local municipal policing departments as well as the street crime unit to take a proactive approach to bringing people in who are wanted on warrants.
He said a recent blitz was done in the Stellarton and Westville areas that involved offices knocking on doors to try to find individuals wanted for court appearances.
Among this work, Halliday said, officers continually get calls and concerns from local residents. He said some of the most common concerns or complaints for the detachments in Stellarton and Pictou are impaired driving, visibility, drugs, ATVs, property crimes, traffic issues, youth, communications and school bus safety.
Halliday heard a few more concerns when he opened the floor to a small crowd of people gathered at the community meeting and one man focused on the need for more police presence in the rural areas of the county while another said he had difficulty reaching officers after hours if it’s not an emergency.
Halliday said policing has changed dramatically over the years and the days of an officer being part of the community and knowing everyone’s names is probably gone, but it doesn’t mean that good communication can’t take place between the police and rural residents.
“Police work is more complex in the past 20 years,” he said. “Twenty years ago it took an hour to process an impaired driver, now it takes six hours.”
However, in order to help out with this issue, Halliday said, Pictou County has assigned its officers jurisdictional areas in the county that will allow them to get to know the residents and community better.