Wood Buffalo RCMP ready for 2024 after challenges, successes in 2023

Superintendent Mark Hancock says local police will have more resources in 2024 compared to his arrival in 2015.

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The last year has been busy for Wood Buffalo RCMP, although most crime rates and calls for service have remained consistent with previous years.

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Superintendent Mark Hancock says police in Fort McMurray will enter 2024 with more resources compared to previous years. Building closer relationships with community groups in 2024 will be critical in fighting crime and improving safety, he said.

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“The past year was a fantastic year, with several challenges but several opportunities as well,” said Hancock in a year-end interview. “The local detachment right now is probably better resourced than it has been since I first came here in 2015. We’re very lucky.”

The number of people calling for police has been consistent during the last three years, with more than 27,100 calls as of early December.

Rates have held steady for assaults, break and enters, crimes against people, property crimes, robberies, and vehicle thefts. Sexual crimes are rising, as are calls involving mental health. There have been four murders across the region, as opposed to one murder locally in 2022.

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Fighting property crime, drug trafficking and traffic issues were top priorities in 2023. Hancock says this will likely remain the case in 2024.

Tackling these issues will involve working with community groups and leaders. Hancock says Wood Buffalo RCMP have positive relationships with First Nation and Métis leaders in the region. An RCMP community officer has been stationed to Fort McKay. Relationships between the RCMP and the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, religious groups and multicultural associations also deepened this year.

“There’s still a lot of good policing that can be done to keep the residents safe,” he said.

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Officers with Wood Buffalo RCMP on Tundra Drive on September 24, 2023. Police responded to the homicide of a man on Tundra Drive shortly after 12:40 a.m. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network

Wood Buffalo RCMP has seen successes in 2023. Hancock praised the police response to the evacuation of Fort Chipewyan during last summer’s wildfire season. He is also proud of how police helped social groups and the municipality clear encampments. The residents were moved into supportive housing.

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Hancock says the Police and Crisis Team (PACT), which pairs police officers with nurses, has responded to hundreds of calls involving mental health issues. None of their responses have involved serious use of force. The restorative justice program, a voluntary program prioritizing forgiveness and understanding between victims and perpetrators, has dealt with 37 adults and 18 youths in the region.

Hancock hopes to get a drone for the detachment in 2024. He is also speaking with the RMWB about having a police outpost based out of Janvier’s fire station.

The local detachment is starting to see more officers wanting to transfer to Wood Buffalo RCMP. Hancock says this has not been the case historically. A recruiting crisis that the RCMP faced in recent years is starting to improve, he added.

“We’re getting a bit more experienced here right now. Morale is good in this detachment. We’re involved in lots of stuff in the community,” he said. “It’s an exciting time to be here. It’s a good time to be a police officer in Fort McMurray right now.”

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