The Sault Ste. Marie Police Service says it’s deploying patrol officers day and night in an effort to suppress a rash of break-ins since emergency orders stemming from COVID-19 went into effect across the province.
Earlier this month, the police service reported 39 break-ins - 15 of those occurring at area businesses - between March 30 and April 16 of this year. During the same two-week period last year, there were a total of 24 reported break-and-enters, with just two of those break-ins happening at commercial properties.
The police service established its own break-and-enter task force earlier this month as the number of break-ins began trending upward.
“We took our current patrol zones and we divided them into smaller areas,” said Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Deputy Chief Robert MacLachlan, during a report to the Police Services Board Thursday. “We deployed officers, both day shift and the night shift, to work under the direction of our crime suppression unit and the sergeant there, and they’re deployed daily.”
“They keep track of the businesses that they go to, so that we have statistics on when the officers visited there in case there is a break-and-enter or some sort of a problem later so we can narrow it down to time period,” he continued. “Once again, as the chief mentioned, it’s all about high visibility. Really, during this COVID crisis, there’s not as many reasons for people being out and about, so the officers focus on suspicious activity at peak times for break-and-enters.”
The task force is also reaching out to businesses in order to do what it calls ‘target hardening’ - or in other words, soliciting concerns from business owners as part of its outreach, which also includes the distribution of educational materials on crime protection tips to local businesses.
Earlier this month, Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Chief Hugh Stevenson told SooToday that the task force will also perform ‘compliance checks’ with those accused of break-and-enters to ensure release conditions are being met.
“We’re trying to counteract the perception - if it exists - by the criminal element that there’s no consequence to being captured,” said MacLachlan. “So if they do get released, there are conditions however, and we are going about and making the message strong that we are checking the conditions, and we will be around to talk to your surety to make sure you’re complying with the curfews and whatever conditions might be there.”
The police service's break-and-enter task force is redistributing officers from patrol services, investigation services and the crime suppression unit - creating a coordinated effort to supress break-ins without creating additional costs.
“I want to thank Bob [deputy chief Robert MacLachlan] and his staff for such a comprehensive plan - not just the investigative aspect, but on the community touch to it, because phone calls are made after break-and-enters, we’re in advance telling people, this is how you need to protect yourself,” Stevenson said following MacLachlan’s report to the Police Services Board. “And you know, it reminds me of the old days in policing where our officers went around and checked on doors when people weren’t around - and those old principles, folks, have a lot of value in times of crisis, and it’s funny how everything we do in technology today comes back to good old frontline policing. Get out of the car, check the door, come by that vacant building.”