Year in review and looking forward to 2018

Bracebridge OPP Insp. Brian Therrien, right, and Staff Sgt. Brian Crisp talk about some of the successes and challenges the detachment faced in 2017 and map out their priorities for 2018. – Paige Phillips/Metroland

A change of command and a spike in traffic collisions kept police busy in south Muskoka last year.

Bracebridge OPP Insp. Brian Therrien described 2017 as a year of transition for the detachment, with long-standing Insp. Ed Medved retiring in late April, a position he held for a decade. Therrien became south Muskoka’s newest inspector in early June after being away from the road for nearly 20 years. Staff Sgt. Brian Crisp also returned to the Bracebridge detachment in early June after completing a temporary assignment at central region headquarters in Orillia.

“It has been a year of transition and learning for me,” said Therrien. “I’ve been learning the Muskoka area, reactive policing, and I’ve come to discover that analytics is really important within the organization.”

Of greatest concern in 2017 was the number of traffic complaints, which Therrien dubbed “significant.” The detachment received 1,715 traffic complaints in which 316 charges were laid, 253 were deemed unsolved or unfounded, and 1, 179 were completed and solved and not criminal in nature.

“In those situations where the calls are completed and not criminal, our officers engage and make contact with the driver and establish there was no offence,” said Therrien. “This serves as a good education piece to allow for our officers to interact with the members of the public.”

Therrien said the detachment relies heavily on public reporting of traffic concerns to enhance community safety with respect to area roads.

“Most of these criminal charges are a result of someone calling it in,” said Therrien. “We can’t do our jobs on our own.”

Also of concern for the Bracebridge top cop was the number of collisions last year.

“We had 706 collisions, and of those 143 were animal-related while the rest were all related to driver behaviour, whether that was inattentive driving, a person losing control and people driving too fast for conditions,” said Therrien. “Every time a snowflake hits the highway the collisions start coming in and I see it as a waste of our resources that we’re investigating collisions when people aren’t slowing down. It is frustrating for us.”

Staff Sgt. Crisp echoed Therrien’s sentiments, stating that these types of collisions are preventable.

The Bracebridge OPP has recently partnered with the District of Muskoka to establish a traffic safety committee, a new community initiative, with the goal of increasing the safety of all persons on area roadways through educational campaigns. The committee partnered with Fowler Construction to erect its first road safety campaign sign on Jan. 23.

The committee will launch four signs this year, placed in various locations, with changing messages to address the issues of speed, distracted driving, sharing the road and others.

In 2017, the community was shocked and saddened at the shooting death of 64-year-old Wendy Boland at her Bracebridge home, allegedly at the hands of her 67-year-old husband, Bryan, who is facing a charge of first-degree murder. Many of our readers took to social media to express their grief over the death and to question whether domestic violence was on the rise in the area.

Data over a three-year period shows an ebb-and-flow trend in south Muskoka, said Therrien, with more domestic reported calls in 2017 over 2016, but down from 2015.

In 2015, 378 domestic calls were reported, followed by 364 in 2016 and 422 in 2017. However, of those numbers in 2015, 24 per cent were criminally related, or cleared by charge, compared to 19 per cent in 2016 and 21 per cent in 2017.

“There are a very high number of domestics reported that are not criminal in nature,” said Therrien.

He explained that sometimes an investigating officer discovers that a domestic call is simply a verbal disagreement between two people where no criminal offence has taken place.

Therrien added that the OPP is mandated to lay charges when officers have reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has occurred relating to domestic calls, even if the victim does not want to lay charges.

“There is no discretion,” said Therrien. “We spend a significant amount of time ensuring that we have someone dedicated to review all those calls for service that are domestic related to make sure that we haven’t missed anything. We truly rely heavily on our partners. Sometimes we even have more than one person reviewing the cases.”

Crisp added that domestic calls are considered a priority and there are significant resources attached to the investigative process.

“The idea behind this is so that nothing falls through the cracks, so that we are engaging all our community stakeholders and putting the person’s best interests first. We want to ensure that the person receives the resources and attention that they need,” said Crisp.

Therrien said all front-line officers now complete a one-week training session relating to domestic violence.

Challenges that lie ahead in 2018 include improving road safety, the growing trend of sexting in high schools, and the legalization of marijuana.

“Our community safety officers spend a significant amount of time in our schools on the topic of sexting and trying to get the messaging out to kids that it is not OK to take a photo of yourself and send it out to someone else,” said Therrien.

Sexting-related charges were laid in the Bracebridge area in 2017.

In 2018, Therrien said Bracebridge OPP would focus on building on its successes, with the top priorities of increasing community engagement and involvement through support of a number of community events and causes, building a healthy workforce, crime prevention, enforcement of roadways, trails and waterways, reducing victimization and supporting victims of crime.

Source: MuskokaRegion.com