Rural crime rates continue to climb and Albertans are ready to see a change in policy, increased police presence and tougher laws to bring an end to it.
“It’s getting frustrating,” said MD of Foothills resident Dave Greyland.
Two trucks were stolen from his Davisburg-area home during the night at the end of January, and a stolen car was left in their place – right in front of the house. Both trucks were recovered, but it wasn’t easy.
The first was found by Calgary Police Service (CPS), and Greyland was told by letter he would have to pay more than $500 to the impound lot to get it back.
“They had it for two weeks sitting in the impound,” he said. “That’s the only reason we found out about the truck, otherwise they were about to send it to auction.”
Greyland said matters got more complicated because the original report had been made with the RCMP but they were told since the truck was found in the city it became the jurisdiction of CPS.
Greyland said they were shocked that a call hadn’t been made to the registered owner of the vehicle, rather than a letter. It took meeting with a lawyer to get out of paying the impound fee and having the truck returned, he said.
In the meantime, the second truck was found near Gleichen. It was labelled as a biohazard when it was recovered due to its condition, but the insurance company is having it repaired, he said.
“There was booze, there was dope, they’d been living in the vehicle,” said Greyland. “They went through everything, they took a lot of stuff out like the big diesel container that was bolted in the back of the truck, there were parts gone we had for our tractors. Everything inside was basically gone.”
He said the thief of the Gleichen truck was caught, but the other was not.
“As far as I know though they just got a slap on the wrist and they let the guy go so he’s back out on bail again,” said Greyland. “It’s not like they’re doing anything with them, they’re letting them get away with whatever, and that’s getting frustrating.”
United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney said that’s a large part of the problem with rural crime – that offenders are released or lost in the system.
“One solution it seems is to clear up the back log in the court system, which may require more judges and prosecutors,” said Kenney.
It’s also time to create a greater police presence in rural Alberta, he said. Current response times can sometimes be over an hour in the country.
He said the UCP’s task force, created jointly with the federal Conservatives, is consulting with victims of crime, prosecutors, police and other stakeholders to find solutions to the problem.
Rural property crime in Alberta has at least doubled over the past two or three years and it needs to stop, he said. It’s becoming more dangerous, as residents become fed up and fearful – just recently homeowner Edouard Maurice is charged after RCMP received reports of shots fired at a rural property on Feb. 24. He allegedly encountered two individuals rummaging through his vehicles, and in the ensuing confrontation, a firearm was discharged an unknown amount of times.
Kenney said the first duty of government is public safety, and the provincial and federal governments must both do everything possible to provide timely police protection to people who are victims of crime and reduce rural crime rates.
“Property thefts are becoming break-and-entries, which are becoming home invasions, which are becoming increasingly violent,” he said. “And now, people are starting to take the law into their own hands.”
In November, the UCP brought more than 100 victims to the provincial legislature to raise awareness of the issue, he said. They asked the NDP for a day of debate on the issue but were refused.
“They denied there really is a problem,” said Kenney. “So I think the first thing we need is our provincial government to acknowledge that this is a problem.”
Greyland said he hopes that day comes soon. Right now, rural residents far from town feel like sitting ducks, he said. He’s installed cameras on his land to catch any future offenders in the act, and they are having mechanical gates put in to replace his current gate-and-lock system, at a cost of $10,000.
“It’s going to cost us an arm and a leg to get it all done,” said Greyland. “Why should I have to go through all this just to be able to live my life in the country?”
He said it’s also changing people’s attitudes. When someone approaches your property for help, the first instinct is to lock them out and let them figure it out for rather than lend a hand, he said.
“Are they really wanting help, or are they just trying to scope out your place?” said Greyland. “There’s no point in us helping, because you don’t know if they’re going to try to come back later and steal from you.
“It’s starting to make everybody out in the country more paranoid.”