Oftentimes police work isn’t as cut and dry as simply catching the bad guy and taking him off to jail.

That’s a realization the Meadow Lake RCMP have come to, as evidenced by the efforts of Cpl. Ryan How and members of his detachment to draw attention to an issue that, while still technically illegal, stems from a problem far deeper and much more complicated than your average crime.

Recently, How paid a visit to businesses in Meadow Lake’s downtown core to distribute a letter informing owners about the RCMP’s efforts to curb resources as far as arresting and processing panhandlers is concerned. The plan is to get enough business owners affected by such behaviour to complete victim impact statements, which can be used as evidence when the latest lot of loiterers appears before a provincial court judge later this spring. This, in turn, police hope, will result in a more permanent solution that will ultimately save taxpayer dollars, while also benefiting the perpetrators themselves.

Just how many businesses, if any, comply with the RCMP’s request remains to be seen, but if it has the potential to pull the blindfold back on the eyes of justice long enough to make the province understand the current method of enforcement is not working, the more statements businesses can submit the better. Indeed, as How recently noted, there’s seemingly no end to the vicious cycle involving loiterers and panhandlers on Centre Street.

On a daily basis, these individuals will accost passersby only to have the police respond, place them under arrest and have them appear before a judge. In the end, however, the panhandlers usually find themselves right back where they started. In many cases, these folks are not malicious, but, because of alcohol abuse and other addictions, How said they often find themselves in a downward spiral toward desperation and disparity.

That’s where the RCMP’s plan gets a little tricky. The police have both the authority and the ability to enforce the law, but only the courts have the power to reach a positive and more long-term solution. Whether it’s a court-imposed rehab stay or some other program designed to truly help these people rather than add yet more items to their permanent records, there has to be a better way.

However, there is, of course, this particular adage to keep in mind – real change comes from within. In an ideal world it would be wonderful if alternative measures could be taken to free up the justice system’s calendar and to get these people the assistance they truly need. But, even if every potential opportunity for change is offered, they won’t mean a thing if the people themselves don’t want to change. It’s indeed a daunting task the RCMP has taken on. It will be interesting to see if they can make it work.

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