By Greg Price
Public meetings are fast approaching this Saturday to see if the M.D. of Taber-area Rural Crime Watch program can be revived.
“I got involved because I saw a need for someone to continue the energy and continue the local association moving forward,” said Rosemary Lindsay, who is vice president of the Alberta Provincial Rural Crime Watch Association and president of her local chapter in Cochrane. “It is something that I could do as a citizen to help the RCMP and do my part to help make my community and help deter criminal intent.”
With a land area of 4,201 square kilometres, police agencies have a lot of real estate to cover with limited resources in rural areas like the M.D. of Taber. An initiative like Rural Crime Watch can make for more effective policing when the general public can give a helping hand with an extra set of eyes.
Since the signing of the memorandum of understanding back in February 2018, interest in Rural Crime Watch has been re-energized according to Lindsay, to go along with the seven-point rural crime action plan that was announced by the NDP in March 2018 that included funding for 39 new officers, 40 civilian staff and 10 Crown prosecutors focused on rural crime.
Lindsay will be at both the Taber and Vauxhall meetings later this week, making presentations on Rural Crime Watch.
“The land to cover in rural areas is vast and the more the RCMP have for support, as in eyes and ears, people reporting things and putting two and two together, it is going to help,” said Lindsay. “You see your neighbour has been broken into a mile over, and on your other side your neighbour has been broken into, people are going in the middle ‘wait a minute, a trend is emerging here.’ By communicating that to the RCMP and other law enforcement (like Fish and Wildlife), and reporting suspicious activity, it is helping them out in a lot of ways to see where hot spots may be developing.”
Along with being a second set of eyes, Rural Crime Watch also does awareness and education campaigns with best practices for individuals to be proactive in crime prevention. Also, it’s an initiative that gets you to become familiar with your rural neighbours in building a sense of community.
“It can be anything to mitigate or slow down a perpetrator which is always good. It’s tips and tricks where if you are not making it easy for them, chances are it’s not going to happen in your backyard,” said Lindsay. “Things like leaving your houses or your vehicle unlocked. Having keys easily accessible to all your farm equipment, quads, Et cetera. It’s simple little things that people do on a day-to-day basis for convenience, but you are also doing it for the convenience of the perpetrator as well.”
Lindsay cautions Rural Crime Watch is not asking people to be like the Caped Crusader fighting crime in rural settings, but rather taking an extra step of observation in their every-day lives.
“We operate on observe, record, report. We do not do active patrols. That is not in the mandate of Rural Crime Watch. We do not act in the function of a peace officer,” said Lindsay. “The way we support the RCMP is by observing, recording and reporting events as we see them. We do passive patrols like say you pull into town and you see a truck in a field that hasn’t commonly been there and you make a phone call.”
Research into the effectiveness of Rural Crime Watch has proven it has made communities safer statistically.
“Areas that have a high Rural Crime Watch membership participation, we do know it is a crime deterrent. What perpetrators know of those Rural Crime Watch signs is they know they are in a community where people aren’t afraid to make that phone call and have taken steps to protect their belongings, so it’s not going to be easy,” said Lindsay. “Some areas that have done Rural Crime Watch blitzes have seen a 60 per cent decrease in criminal activity, it made a difference for them.”
Time is of the essence in solving and preventing crime in a successful manner.
“We do rely on timely information. If we can get information as it’s happening, we are in a way better position to get to somebody out there. If we get it three days after the fact, the criminal basically has a three-day head start and it makes it that much more difficult to investigate,” said Sgt. Gordon Yetman of the Taber/Vauxhall RCMP detachment. “They talk about that golden hour in First Aid. Getting a person to medical help in a quick amount of time. This is no different, the sooner we know about something the sooner we can monitor it. The more timely it is, the better it is for us.”
At the end of the day, the people who live in the more remote rural areas are the ones who know the terrain best and what is and isn’t out of the ordinary in the area.
“We are out there doing the patrols and having a good handle on it, but it’s the people who live out there who will be the first ones who know if something seems out of place,” said Yetman.
The Rural Crime Watch Program was designed to reduce the incidence of crime in all rural areas and to create a more thorough understanding and awareness of the laws. It is completely voluntary and involves rural residents working in co-operation with their local RCMP detachments. Member associations concentrate their efforts on farmstead, acreage and rural property security, property identification and general rural crime awareness.
“I do know in order to get started up, there needs to be a board formed. Besides these meetings, that will be the next step in finding board members,” said Yetman. “The board that is formed will drive this initiative forward. When those two meetings happen at the fire halls, if we can pack those halls, I would be very satisfied. This is not something that is going to require you to give up your evenings or weekends with free time. Basically, you are living your life, but you are providing us with an extra set of eyes in your respective area. If you see something you find suspicious, phone it in.”
The Rural Crime Watch meetings to gauge interest and show what training/footwork will need to be done to open a local chapter, will be held in Taber and Vauxhall on Saturday at the following locations:
1.) From 10 a.m.-noon, M.D. of Taber Fire Station (5814-64th Avenue, Taber).
2.) From 2-4 p.m., Vauxhall Fire Station (935-1st Avenue North, Vauxhall).
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