South Peace News
Fighting rural crime is not just about enforcement, but also about community members coming together to help prevent crime.
That was the main message at the Rural Crime Prevention Conference at the Sawridge Inn in Peace River on Jan. 25.
The conference featured presentations by local police officers, Corinna Williams of the Northern Sunrise Rural Crime Watch Association, and the founder of the Lightcatch phone app which allows people to anonymously self-report suspicious activity.
The conference also included a security trade show to give people new technological options to keep their properties safe.
The free conference was sponsored thanks to Kelly Whalen of GO Auto, and Gord Drummond of Tim Hortons.
Statistics in 2019 showed that crime rates are higher in rural areas than urban areas in western provinces like Alberta. The perception among rural communities is that crime is a big problem.
“I think people are concerned,” says Town of Peace River Councillor Orren Ford.
Ford points to recent announcements by provincial Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer as evidence the province is working on the problem.
“It’s about being proactive instead of reactive, so a conference like this is perfect,” Ford says.
Ford says part of preventing crime is being smart about using social media.
“When you’re on holidays, why would you take a picture and put in on social media, and say, ‘I’m in the Bahamas, my house is empty?’” he says.
Ford adds neighbours need to look out for each other more.
“We’re a little different than we were 25 years ago. A lot of us don’t even know who are neighbours are,” Ford says.
As an example, Ford says his own neighbour came to his home recently and asked him to watch their property while they were away.
“That’s what we need to happen,” Ford says.
Ford says he’s amazed at how many people came out to the conference.
“We were able to engage close to 90 people, so getting that information out there about crime prevention is huge,” Ford says.
“We’re really happy that we have an active and engaged community like the one we do here in Peace River with everybody coming together,” agrees Sgt. Dave Browne of the Peace Regional RCMP Detachment. “It’s so refreshing to see such a healthy contingent come out to an event like this.”
Browne says the conference has been over a decade in the making thanks to cooperation between the Town of Peace River, Northern Sunrise County, and other surrounding communities.
“I’ve been stationed at Peace River detachment for 14 years and for 12 years I’ve been involved in the rural crime watch here,” he says.
“This has been something that everyone takes seriously in order to address this issue, so this isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to something that’s just happened or an increase in crime. This has been ongoing for 12 years now.”
A multi-pronged approach is being taken to fight crime.
“First is prevention, and the second is enforcement,” says Browne.
He adds the local community advisory group, which includes representation from the police, fire department, youth, seniors, and the jail, regularly discusses what problems are affecting the community and then members help brainstorm solutions.
“One of the things that came up was thefts from vehicles in and around our community,” Browne says.
Volunteers helped the police with a “Lock It or Lose It” campaign over the summer, checking vehicles in parking lots in the community to see if they were secure or not, and reminding people to remove their valuables and lock their cars.
“If they were doing a great job we also tried to reward them for that behaviour,” he says.
Another way local police are working to prevent crimes like theft is the business check program. Uniformed officers go out to businesses in and around the area to make sure the businesses are locked up and secure, and leave a business check card so business owners know the police were there.
“Interestingly there were a number of times that we’ve come across businesses that are unsecured or there are vehicles that are unsecured outside, and we make every effort to get in touch with the owner and try and address that issue if they’re willing to come down and secure their properties,” Browne says.
“The first question, of course, when a crime is committed is, where were the police, what are the police doing about it? So what we want to showcase is that we are actually out there and we are making these efforts, and then the hope is that we can connect with these business owners and make sure they are doing everything possible to secure their property and mitigate their opportunities for them to be victims of crime.”
However, Browne says one of the best things people can do is call the police if they notice anything suspicious.
“That was the biggest part of the picture that we were missing originally, was people didn’t think it was worth calling police over a possible break-in to their shed, or somebody broke into their shed but nothing was taken. So when the third shed gets broken into, and we get one report of that from one person who reports it, we don’t realize that we’re dealing with a bigger picture,” he says.
“That’s been a big part of our strategy, is that you can call us and let us know even if nothing was taken. We still want to know that because it gives us a picture of the crime that allows us to dedicate our resources to problem areas.”
Browne says police have been handing out magnets with the non-emergency detachment phone number on them to help people remember what number to call. Community members can also report crimes to Crimestoppers.
The RCMP encourages people to become part of their local Rural Crime Watch program, Citizens on Patrol, or other local crime watch programs such as the Northern Sunrise Rural Crime Watch Association.
To report a crime or emergency in progress, call 911.