KAWARTHA LAKES-So far this year Kawartha Lakes Police officers have responded to 78 drug overdoses, 11 of them fatal. In the last two months alone officers have been averaging close to 180 criminal charges per month according to the chief.
“That’s high even for our summer peak period, so that is a concern,” Chief Mark Mitchell told the Police Services Board on Thursday. “This year to date we have responded to 78 overdose incidents with 11 of them being fatal with the most recent occurring last night. I think that illustrates the complexity of it and one of the reasons mental health and addictions were identified as one of the most acute risks in our community safety and wellbeing plan.”
According to statistical reports provided by police, there were 94 criminal charges laid in August 2022 versus 178 in August 2023. The numbers for July are similar with 176 criminal charges laid this July. Drug charges doubled year over year in August.
“That is going to factor into our budget discussion later,” Mitchell said. “Our assaults are up a little bit but not significantly but what’s driving that in my view is our property related offences. Our theft incidents are considerably elevated over the past year.”
Police and council received a couple of complaints from the public and a business owner with regard to public safety in downtown Lindsay.
The chief says it boils down to the “perceived prevalence” of criminal behaviour and the frustrations in what’s “perceived to be a lack of response from police”, politicians and other groups.
“I will say as far as criminal behaviour goes I think the evidence is clear from the statistical report that where appropriate and when possible, when we have grounds we are laying charges at a higher rate than we ever have.” Mitchell explained “We are also seeing an increase in drug use in our community particularly in the downtown area. This is a public health issue and will not be solved by police alone.”
Mitchell says one of the common complaints he hears about is aggressive panhandling and he shared a disturbing anecdote with the board.
“We had an individual downtown who was a persistent source of complaints about aggressive panhandling. We charged that individual under the Safe Streets act, we charged him criminally on a few occasions, he was subject to a community treatment order for some serious mental health concerns. He was offered all kinds of services and none of that seemed to curb his behaviour. You may note I am talking about him in the past tense because he died earlier this month of a suspected overdose. I think that kind of encapsulates all of those issues.”
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, this country is currently facing a parallel pandemic of mental health problems, increasing substance use and a deadly toxic drug supply.
Chief Mitchell says it is a very complex issue that will not be solved solely by police.
“If I had the answer we’d be doing it,” he said.