If I were to poll a thousand Peterborough residents on whether they’d feel safe walking through our downtown core at 10:00pm on a Saturday night, I’m guessing a large percentage would say no. They’d likely reference high drug use, frequent assaults and thefts for their distrust of the downtown core.
What I’ve found is that many of the people I know no longer feel safe in their own town. They call on more policing, complain that the Peterborough Lakefield Community Police Service isn’t doing enough to keep our city safe. The funny thing is that they typically base this opinion off of anecdotal evidence and really, they’re blaming the wrong people. Let me explain.
Last summer, James Burtch took Rodney Hadwyn’s life in an act of violence fueled by jealousy and drugs. Police investigated and arrested Burtch a short time later at a hotel in Peterborough. Officers collected evidence, statements, a lock-tight motive for the crime, and delivered it all the court system in what was assumed to be a slam-dunk conviction. Burtch was a drug addict, as was his girlfriend at the time, and set out for vengeance that day because his girlfriend had cheated on him with two other men, one of which was the deceased. According to testimony however, Burtch planned on killing the second man that his girlfriend had been with, not Hadwyn, even though Burtch admitted to previous altercations with him. They had a violent history together but, according to the accused, Hadwyn was allegedly never his target.
The defense argued that because Burtch had only stabbed Hadwyn once; it showed that his intent was not to have a prolonged attack on the man. So instead of first-degree murder, he was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to five years, eight months and 18 days in prison. He received credit for the 15 months and 12 days he had already served as well. So after taking a man’s life, who at the time had his two-year-old daughter with him, Burtch will spend a little more time in prison than a student does in high school.
So here’s the thing: Burtch was held up in hotel room, addicted to crack cocaine and living off of the welfare system, a system that I see abused all the time. Our tax dollars, essentially, straight into his habit. Think about that for a minute — every dollar you earn and are taxed on, trickling into a system to support a drug habit. Pretty infuriating to me and likely to many of you.
Two of our systems failed in this instance and neither of them were our police force. Whether you agree with me or not, the men and women who patrol the streets of Peterborough are hard working and dedicated to keeping us safe. They follow the Criminal Code of Canada and lay charges accordingly. They do an often thankless job, taking verbal and physical abuse all the time. After they’ve done the dirty work, they hand it off to a broken system.
The people that really let us down, and continue to do so on a daily basis, are the judges hearing these cases and the support system that’s supposed to be in place for people struggling with substance abuse. There’s an interesting idea being floated around that welfare be distributed using debit cards so that the funds can’t be used for cash purchases, like illicit drugs, or that people on welfare agree to drug testing. I don’t know what changes should be made to system and I’m not even saying that I agree with these ideas, all I know is that changes need to be made.
An easy way to explain our system in its current state is that it’s like a boat taking on water. On this boat there is Captain and a ship hand. The Captain is bailing water out of the boat with a coffee cup and the ship hand is bailing water back onboard with a 5-gallon pail. As it stands, the police are the Captain and … well, you can guess who’s bailing the water back onboard.
We’re increasing police budgets and demanding more from our police service when really we need to demanding reform to our social assistance and legal systems. Peterborough is struggling in this regard. When I walk to my office which is located in the downtown core, I see a number of people visibly suffering from mental illness and drug abuse. These people need help but instead, they are ignored. When people do break the law in Peterborough, it’s often drug related. Either fueled by drugs or the need to procure more drugs. When arrested by the Peterborough Lakefield Community Police Service, they go to jail, go before a judge and then exit back onto the street via a revolving door, to an existence that simply promotes their old way of life instead of opportunities to improve and so the cycle continues.
So the next time you want to complain about the police force in Peterborough, you should maybe direct your angst towards the judges and systems that neither properly punish crimes like murder or supply support for people struggling with their demons.