In recent years the Municipality of Meaford has been identified by Statistics Canada as one of the safest Canadian communities in which to live. In 2011 Meaford was ranked the second-safest community in the country, however, in the first quarter of 2015 the municipality has seen a significant increase in criminal activity.
Grey County OPP Detachment Commander Michael Guilfoyle made a presentation to Meaford council at their April 27 meeting to provide an update on OPP activity in the first quarter of this year, and though it might simply be an uncharacteristic spike in criminal activity, it could point to greater problems.
Inspector Guilfoyle told council that in the first three months of last year there were no assaults in Meaford, however in the same three months of this year there have been nine assaults, two thirds of which were domestic assaults. The municipality had three violent crimes in the first quarter of 2014 (assault is included in violent crime statistics), while the first quarter of this year saw 12 violent crimes committed, a 300 percent increase over last year.
But it's not just violent crimes that are on the increase in Meaford. Theft under $5,000 crimes have jumped 900 percent over the same period last year. All of the 20 instances in the first quarter of this year can be attributed to automobile break-ins, and Guilfoyle noted that all of those vehicles were unlocked when broken into.
Drug possession charges have remained stagnant at a relatively low two cases, however in the first quarter of this year there was a drug trafficking charge, something Meaford didn't see in the same period a year ago.
Another major concern for the OPP is the dramatic increase in impaired driving and distracted driving charges – not just in Meaford, but in Grey County in general. While the rest of the province continues to see a decline in impaired driving charges, Grey County has seen a 317 percent increase in that infraction in the first quarter of 2015. Distracted driving – a statistic that was once a small fraction of highway traffic act offences – has seen a nearly 40 percent increase over the same period last year, and Guilfoyle noted that two recent deaths in separate incidents on Grey County roads can be directly attributed to distracted driving.
“We have, within the first quarter of this year, within Meaford, and all of Grey County, seen a significant increase in drinking and driving,” Guilfoyle told council.
That statistic is perhaps not overly surprising given that residents of Grey and Bruce counties are more likely to be heavy drinkers than other parts of the province. In 2011/2012, 26 percent of the Grey-Bruce population over the age of 12 are regular, heavy drinkers, while the provincial average is just 17 percent. The provincial average has remained fairly constant since the year 2000 when 19.3 percent of Ontarians were considered heavy drinkers, while in Grey Bruce the number of heavy drinkers has increased from a low of 15.1 percent in 2003 compared to 25.8 percent in 2012.
According to the Grey-Bruce Health Unit, nearly six percent of Grey-Bruce residents admit to drinking two or more drinks in the hour before operating an automobile. Males are roughly five times more likely to drink and drive than are females, and higher income residents are also more likely than lower income residents to drive after consuming alcohol.
Not all of what Inspector Guilfoyle had to report was negative. The new school liaison officer in Meaford, PC Melissa Barfoot, has been settling into her new duties since February, and in addition to the standard school programming such as drug awareness, PC Barfoot has handled a domestic assault at GBSS with an arrest made on school property, and she has been able to assist in identifying a young offender responsible for some recent graffiti in the municipality.
Additionally, Guilfoyle told council that the recent decision to have the Meaford detachment office open to the public one day per week for submission of criminal record checks has been embraced by the community, with nearly 100 record requests in the first quarter of this year, or an average of eight requests for each day the detachment is open to the public.
Inspector Guilfoyle plans to visit Meaford's council each quarter to provide an update to the municipality.