Many of the latest statistics from various police agencies in Alberta are pointing to a slight decline in the number of crimes being committed.
In respect to rural crime, 2017 was far worse for the number of reported criminal activity than in 2018. In central Alberta, that amounted to a drop of around 15 per cent in the overall number of property crime offenses.
Combine that with police being able to target and arrest a big chunk of those responsible for the bulk of those crimes and it did make living in Alberta’s countryside and smaller communities — especially in our region — seem a lot safer.
Yet, there remains a sentiment across a lot of central Alberta that people are still under too great a threat from thieves and being targeted by those that are too frequently being caught and subsequently released by the court system — whether it is in their own homes or in their vehicle on area highways.
From 2014 to 2017, the number of property crimes — including thefts, break and enter, mischief — rose quite dramatically across the province and prompted outcries from businesses and the public that something needed to be done. A lot of the outrage came from residents in central Alberta, as it seemed they were the ones being most targeted.
When thinking about why that was, I’m reminded of an excellent quote from the current officer in charge of the Bashaw RCMP detachment.
“Most rural residents are good, trusting people, but the bad guys from larger centres know this and that’s why crimes like this are increasing,” said Sgt. Bruce Holliday back in 2017.
“People do not lock up their sheds, homes, fuel tanks or leave the keys in the vehicles and the bad guys know this. They are targeting those good trusting people, but this is 2017 and people need to change how they operate and how they think.”
Given the proximity of the Bashaw detachment coverage area — ranging from Donalda to the areas surrounding Alix and over to Mecca Glen plus up towards Camrose — to places such as Red Deer, Camrose and Stettler, it seemed to be a quick trip for most criminals.
Add in the fact that big region is covered by a smaller staffing complement compared to Blackfalds, Sylvan Lake, Innisfail and Ponoka detachments, and the thought process for many criminals was the risk of getting caught wasn’t anywhere near as high as the reward would be in committing the crime.
Holliday’s continued work in promoting residents better protect their property through securing valuables, locking vehicles even when stored inside, having cameras or other security measures in place has seen benefits — mainly in limiting some of the criminal activity in the area. However, there remains more that could be done.
One positive was a pair of central Alberta RCMP pilot projects came into play in 2018, both of which were successful in curbing crime rates.
A huge piece of these projects were programs where habitual offenders are kept tabs on by police and those on probation for these types of offenses are frequently checked on to see if they are adhering to rules like a curfew or avoiding certain substances and places of business.
Detachments around the central region are now using these programs on a regular basis, depending on staffing levels.
And that is where the real issue lies, since the RCMP is short-staffed in many areas and for various reasons.
From officers going on long-term sick leave to a shortage of available officers and recruits to places like Bashaw where the decision on how many staff are approved seem to be too low for what is needed.
Which is why another success, the several Rural Crime Watch groups active in central Alberta, needs much more support from area residents as well as more funding from the province.
It’s important since doing that would be far cheaper than trying to add dozens of officers or going to another expensive suggestion, an Alberta provincial police force similar to what’s in Ontario and Quebec.
It always used to be residents looking out for each other. Getting back to that, along with better criminal intelligence gathering and prompt reporting of incidents, plus residents taking greater security measures, are key to continuing the downward trend on rural crime.
But that is…just an observation.