(Blaine Calkins/MP for Red Deer-Lacombe)

(Blaine Calkins/MP for Red Deer-Lacombe)

MP Blaine Calkins introduces bill to toughen up on rural crime

Mischief, damage to property on the rise in Ponoka County, Lacombe County

It’s no secret that criminals have gotten bold in recent years.

Rural areas have been hit hard and central Albertans continue to be plagued by property crimes.

One Facebook user recently posted on a Rimbey community watch page that a home she was renovating close to Bluffton was gutted, with nearly everything taken, including a wood stove, kitchen cabinets, doors and a couple of wardrobes.

“Rural Canadians too often don’t feel safe in their own homes,” said Red Deer-Lacombe MP Blaine Calkins in a press release.

“Many have been victimized so often they’ve given up reporting property crime,” he said, adding many can’t afford insurance.

“My constituents are tired of being victims, they’re tired of the revolving door of the justice system, and of crime not being taken seriously. They are losing faith in the justice system, because too often it puts criminals before victims and their families.”

READ MORE: Rural-Rimbey property owner offers $5k award for arson info

Calkins is introducing a private member’s bill, Bill C-289, that aims to “toughen measures for criminals who victimize rural Canadians by creating an aggravating factor at sentencing for targeting people and property that are vulnerable due to remoteness from emergency medical or police service.”

The bill would also include break-ins to outbuildings such as barns and shops, as aggravating factors, just like home invasions are. The presence of a weapon would also count as an aggravating factor.

“Lastly, this bill ensures that a judge carefully considers why an offender didn’t get bail when assigning credit for time served,” said Calkins.

Rural crime has been a consistent problem in rural Ponoka and Ponoka County over the last few years, says Cst. Myron Lemke of the Ponoka RCMP detachment’s General Investigation Section (GIS).

Although discussion about it may have “fizzled out,” it is still very much a problem, he says.

Thieves still tend to be active during times they are less likely to be seen and caught, which could be at night or during the day. When homes are left alone during the day, there is a lot of value there and they become targets, he says.

“Traditionally, they still try when no one is there to detect them,” said Lemke.

In 2020, there were 500 less calls for services from the year before, according to Lemke.

It was smaller things people seemed to stop calling about, perhaps due to concerns over the virus and limiting in-person contact, he says.

Lemke says they need the cooperation of the public to help curb crime.

“Still report it — don’t get complacent.”

Although there were less total calls for services in 2020, there has not been an overall decrease in crime other than standard fluctuations and calls received aren’t indicative of complete crime statistics for the area, or whether serious or low-level crimes have increased or decreased, he says.

Crime statistics for Ponoka County provided by the RCMP show that robbery has dipped up and down over the last three years, from 16 in 2018 to six in 2019 and 22 in 2020.

Break-and-enters rose from 64 in 2018 to a peak of 97 in 2019, decreasing to 79 in 2020.

Theft under $5,000 appears to be the most prevalent category, with a high of 234 in 2017, declining to 213 in 2019 and 158 in 2020.

Mischief – damage to property, has seen a sharp rise from zero reported in 2017, to 76 in 2019 and 109 in 2020.

Failure to comply and breaches of conditions is a fairly steady category, with a drop from 288 in 2019 to 202 in 2020.

Similarly in Lacombe County, there were a total of 141 break and enters, down from 228 in 2019, but mischief – damage to property rose from 64 in 2019 to 99 in 2020.

Theft under $5,000 had a slight increase from 190 in 2019 to 197 in 2020, however, has had a general downward trend from 320 in 2017.

All data includes attempted and completed incidents.

RCMP Alberta Media Relations recently released some tips for property owners to prevent property crimes.

According to the release, as the weather warms up and people begin renovation and maintenance projects, it’s also a good time to look at making some environmental changes to deter crime.

As property crimes tend to happen where there are easy access points and reduced visibility, installing LED or motion senor lights in dark corners and key areas around your property, as well as keeping doors locked and having a perimeter fence or border can help protect your property.

Also consider installing surveillance cameras with clear sight lines from inside your house to the curb or edge of your property, as well as through trimmed trees and foliage.

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