Survey aims to ID local rural crime concerns

Susan Thompson
South Peace News

Are you worried about rural crime? Or do you feel relatively safe in your community?

Northern Sunrise County and the Town of Peace River want to know.

The general public perception as seen on social media is that rural crime is going up, but with recent lockdowns due to the coronavirus the issue may be more complicated.

“It is difficult to say if crime is on the rise, I think we all need to be vigilant to report all suspicious activities so offenders know they are being watched and maybe make them think before they engage in criminal activities,” says Corinna Williams, County councillor and chairperson for the Northern Sunrise Rural Crime Watch Association.

The Northern Sunrise crime watch fights crime by regularly sending e-mails out to members about thefts or suspicious activity, and by helping police keep an eye on repeat offenders by reporting their activities.

For instance,Williams says the crime watch may have helped put repeat offender Mukhtar Ali back in custody.

“With regard to Mukhtar Ali, some of the information that the RCMP received from the crime watch members was helpful to identify when Mr. Ali was in non-compliance with his conditions of release and indirectly assisted the RCMP to investigate that lead to further charges,”Williams says.

“I do believe the crime watch members and members of the public are relieved when a prolific offender is in custody; however, we should all do our part to continue to secure all valuables and lock our premises and vehicles when we are away,” she says.

To encourage people to protect themselves, Northern Sunrise County has developed a new property crime prevention campaign. The campaign started on May 10, and is helping educate people on ways to prevent property crime through weekly social media posts, information in the county newsletter, and more.

The County recommends a short nightly routine people can do before bed to protect their property. Residents are asked to make sure to lock up toys, equipment, vehicles and tools, turn on an outdoor light, and lock up their house, garage or shop windows and doors.

The prevention campaign also recommends engraving your name on valuables, trimming trees and bushes to get rid of any hiding places, and using a Trace Pen sold by the crime watch to help police identify the owner of any stolen goods.

However, in order to better assess exactly how crime is currently affecting their communities and plan their next steps, Peace River and Northern Sunrise County are also working together on the Building Capacity in Rural Crime Prevention pilot project.

The pilot involves other select communities across Alberta, such as the Town of Athabasca, and more communities may be added later. The pilot will run for two years.

As part ofRural Crime Framework Project, Williams says Northern Sunrise County and Peace River want to hear from community members and stakeholders about their day-to-day lives, as well as their education, employment, local recreation and leisure experiences, in order to see how safe people feel and find out where there may be problems.

Residents of both communities are being asked to share their experiences and perceptions through the Community Safety and Well-Being survey. The survey is being administered for the municipalities by the Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention [CMNCP].

Williams says the local pilot project survey has been completed by about 100 people so far.

“We are still finding ways to communicate the survey to the residents of Northern Sunrise County and the Town of Peace River. It has been advertised on social media and websites,” she says.

Completing the survey online or on paper should only take about 10-15 minutes, but Williams says the data is an important starting point to make both communities safer.

“Building this base of data will help us to know how residents feel safe in their respective communities and if there are gaps in services or just a case of communicating with the many services we have in the region to allow residents to utilize these,” Williams says.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic is making it more difficult to reach those residents such as seniors that don’t have broadband, especially due to the continued need for social distancing.

“I was hoping to meet with different groups and go through the survey together,” Williams says.

“It does bring up great conversations of safety, mental health and additions that can be part of the underlying aspects of crime of which there are many layers.”

All survey responses are kept confidential, and are being collected and analyzed by researchers from CMNCP.

Only the overall results without any individual identifying information will be shared.

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