Lindsay residents, police, gather at armoury in meeting on neighbourhood crime

'When my husband is not home, I wear a car alarm on my belt and a knife in my pocket'

By William McGinn

Lindsay residents like Allyssa Adams got a chance to ask police and other panelists questions related to community crime. Photo: William McGinn.

A strong turnout at a recent panel discussion on neighbourhood safety gave Lindsay residents a chance to share their growing fear that parts of the town were becoming a hotspot for drug-related crimes.

While the evening’s tone was respectful overall, a handful of residents shouted out their frustrations a few times during the two-hour session held at the Victoria Park Armoury, which involved Kawartha Lakes Police Service, several frontline social service agencies, a Crown Attorney, and citizens. MP Jamie Schmale and Mayor Andy Letham were also in attendance. MPP Laurie Scott showed up later in the evening for part of it.

The discussion was held after Lindsay resident Craig Creighton, his wife, Sandy Creighton, and others in the community wrote letters and reached out to the police and some social services agencies about their frustrations.

“There were conversations around the kitchen table between my wife and myself and first and foremost, anger. Anger at what we saw. Anger at what was right on our sidewalk, drug deals taking place, violence taking place, theft, our vehicles being broken into almost every night, or attempts…and what we were going to do about this,” said Craig Creighton.

Earlier in the month Sandy Creighton told the Advocate that “we no longer feel safe in our neighbourhood.”

The issue of income properties and so-called flop houses — rooming houses with absentee or uncaring landlords — needs to be addressed by the town, she said. These, along with transitional housing buildings like 68 Lindsay St. N., “have saturated our beautiful historical district with wandering, often staggering, often belligerent strangers,” she said.

The building on Lindsay Street consists of two city-run buildings sharing a joint foyer. One half of the new building houses municipal offices, while the other half consists of 24 one-bedroom apartments.

“They (addicts) are in our driveways, yards and outbuildings every night and often in broad daylight.”

These concerns led the Creighton’s to communicate with the local police force, who they took pains to point out they have a high regard for, realizing police officers’ hands are often tied by the legal process. That process was discussed at length at the meeting, with the audience learning the legal system favours people who are charged with a crime be at first set free. Only when they are sentenced is it more common to see people held.

Kawartha Lakes Police Chief Mark Mitchell. Photo: William McGinn.

KLPS Chief Mark Mitchell kicked off the evening, saying the panel was “here to listen to you and the issues you are facing.”

“We’ve received a lot of correspondence leading up to this event,” said Mitchell, “and I know some people are frustrated and angry. I know some people are afraid to walk in their community. You shouldn’t have to feel that way.”

When it was Inspector Tom Hickey’s turn to speak, he noted that between 2020 and 2021 so far, the police have seen a 43 per cent increase in mental health calls and have had to administer naloxone on 14 occasions this year already. (Naloxone is a fast-acting drug to block the effects of, and counter decreased breathing in opioid overdoses.)

Hickey fought back emotions when he told a story that hit him hard during his long police career. He said a profoundly sad moment was when he realized that after years of arresting some of the same people over and over, one day he realized he had begun “arresting their children.”

These children, he said, were simply emulating “the same behaviour they’ve learned from their parents.”

This generational aspect to crime and poverty is a key part of the problem, many of the speakers agreed.

Mayor Andy Letham said the city will hire an additional police officer this year, and there are plans in the budget to add two new additional officers next year.

The Armoury was packed (under COVID rules) for the community meeting. Photo: William McGinn.

More than a few of the speakers expressed the importance of forgiveness and compassion. The new Crown Attorney for Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton County, Kent Saliwonchyk, said “When we’re dealing with people with addiction and mental health issues, the effect of jail is quite limited.”

He said it’s “not as effective a deterrent on those individuals as we might expect.”

“Where the real progress has occurred is after jail, assuming jail’s imposed at all, when the individuals can start doing the work they need to do in order to get past their addiction and mental health. I think that’s an important context when you’re looking at criminal justice,” said Saliwonchyk.

A significant part of the evening was a question-and-answer session in which citizens could ask the panel questions.

One woman who lives in the north ward said a neighbouring home of hers is a drug house, and one of the persons living there, whom she called an “addict,” has “three drug charges, a weapons charge and he’s out on bail constantly. My biggest fear is for the neighbour next door. She’s a senior citizen, mid 80s, does not walk very well, has to use a walker. Twice now the addicts have gone to her house. One actually opened her door and walked in at 10 at night. The second one was banging on her door constantly and it frightened her.”

Another woman later said, “I don’t feel safe at my home. When my husband is not home, I wear a car alarm on my belt and a knife in my pocket. Housing first does not work. There must be conditions around their stay there at 68 Lindsay Street North.”

Businessman Al Hussey got a cheer from the crowd when he said that it’s all well and good to have compassion for people who are addicted to drugs, but that people also need to have empathy for small business owners and regular citizens.

“From our side of the room, people have to start feeling for us,” Hussey said.

The prison, Central East Correctional Centre, was brought up frequently, with some citizens wondering if a lot of the problems weren’t caused by released inmates. Mitchell said only five per cent of the inmates in Lindsay’s “super jail” are actually from Kawartha Lakes. The very nature of these jails ensure they remove people from their home communities.

Craig Creighton said a lot of homes in Lindsay’s downtown core have become rooming homes where people released from the jail go, and when there, they return to crime, evidenced by further traffic, implying drug exchanges. Similar statements were made about 68 Lindsay St. S.

“They’re living in these homes, and they’re exchanging drugs,” said Creighton, although Mitchell was unconvinced of a direct connection with the jail and drugs coming from outside the municipality.

During the Q & A from the audience, new Lindsay resident Zarina Decambra, mentioned she has lived in Lindsay with her family for just four months and she felt the meeting had good intentions and empathy.

“My daughters go to Toronto for work, and I go periodically, and we all cannot wait to come back when we do. Lindsay is a beautiful place to live. I am so happy to have moved here.”

Decambra said to know that “people are getting together to try and solve problems to make this wonderful, beautiful town better means I’m happy here.”

–with files from Roderick Benns.

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