February 21st, 2024

Year in Review: Medicine Hat below average for severe crime in 2021

By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on December 29, 2021.

New police chief Mike Worden took over the role in January of this year.--NEWS FILE PHOTO

kking@medicinehatnews.com

Medicine Hat once again falls below the provincial average for severe crimes on Alberta’s Crime Severity Index, sitting at 78.78 in the 2020 fiscal year, compared to Alberta’s average of 107.36.

However, the lower ranking doesn’t mean crime is nonexistent in the Medicine Hat. The News looks back at crime, policing and community issues which took place in the city throughout 2021.

New Police Chief

To start the year, Mike Worden became Medicine Hat Police Services Chief of Police, taking over from his predecessor Andy McGrogan, who had been serving in the community for more than 40 years.

“It was … a bit of a dream to come back to town and be a part of the organization here,” Worden, who was raised in Medicine Hat but had been working with Calgary’s Police Service, told the News.

Upon being sworn in, Worden began conducting engagement sessions in which he met with MHPS staff and officers and got their feedback about the organization.

“I got to listen to them and hear what were some of the things they experienced and some of the things they felt we could so better and some of the things they thought we did well.”

Worden has since implemented several new measures, as well as building upon existing measures within MHPS. These include the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan and the Indigenous Reconciliation Action Plan. Under his leadership, MHPS has also introduced an Indigenous liaison officer and doubled the number of body-cameras worn by officers.

Looking toward 2022, Worden and the MHPS seek to hire several new officers and grow community engagement.

Notable crime

Throughout the year, Medicine Hat police have worked to curb crime in the city. In August police broke up a stolen camper ring operated by two Medicine Hat men. The men stole, then sold RVs and campers, generating more than $1 million in profits.

In April, Cody Herrell, a former resident of Medicine Hat, was sentenced to seven years in prison for production and possession of child pornography, sexual assault and bestiality charges. Herrell was arrested in 2019 and charged in 2020. He pled guilty to all charges in October of 2020.

Murder

Several murders occurred in the area surrounding Medicine Hat this past year, but only one within the city.

Of the ones occurring in surrounding area, there was the murder of 72-year old Cypress County councillor Alf Belyea, who was declared missing by his wife after she alleged he was last seen on Oct. 8. His body was discovered near Piapot, Sask. several days later on Oct. 16. His wife was subsequently charged with second-degree murder and causing an indignity to a human body.

On Nov. 23, a 26-year old Medicine Hat woman was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of a 34-year old woman in Pincher Creek.

In Medicine Hat, police were called to a residential property on Third Street SE on Oct. 26, where they discovered a deceased 51-year old female. Police charged her partner, a 53-year old man, with second-degree murder. MHPS said the victim’s family had been working with MHPS’s victim’s assistance program.

Crime trends

The murder in Medicine Hat shed light on a rise in domestic violence; something Worden says has become a concerning trend within the city and the nation.

“We have noted the increase of domestic violence calls in the city,” said Worden. “There was an increase in 2020 and again in 2021 … It is concerning for us (and) something that we are paying strict attention to.”

Social trends

Another trend the Medicine Hat community has seen develop throughout the year is the rise in drug overdoses.

“That’s not necessarily crime, but it is a tragedy in this city,” said Worden, when speaking on the record breaking number of overdose deaths the city has suffered this year (as of October there were 31 recorded deaths, compared to 15 in 2020).

“(Overdose deaths) in Medicine Hat, they’ve been quite high. We’re probably going to be double the past year,” Worden said. “Opioids and meth are probably the two highest concentration of drugs that we deal with.”

In response to the uptake in drug overdoses MHPS has partnered with local community organizations (like the Medicine Hat Community Housing Society) as well as health services (like the Canadian Mental Health Association and Alberta Health Services) in a coalition called the Medicine Hat Overdose Response Group, which aims to generate solutions.

Throughout the year, local community leaders have said the best way to address Medicine Hat’s addiction and overdose crisis is to provide comprehensive mental health support.

Worden told the News, MHPS officers attend on average 800 mental health calls per year.

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