Report weighs rural crime problem

People living in remote areas today face the new realities of rural crime and added vulnerability, says a former Alberta prosecutor and current professor at Simon Fraser University.

Scott Newark produced a report for the United Conservative Party of Alberta in 2018 on rural crime, after interviewing police groups, government officials and MLAs who had conducted town hall meetings throughout the province.

“The law enforcement response was inadequate. There was either delayed response, or no response. The communication systems were found to be dysfunctional in terms of adequately getting the right information to the right people,” Newark said.

“It’s appropriate for people in rural areas to say, ‘I think I should be entitled to get more policing services than what I’m getting.’ ”

He said it was surprising how organized criminals involved in rural crime are.

“In Alberta in the work that I did, … a lot of the stuff that was stolen was equipment and vehicles and it was all semi organized. I don’t mean at a level of the Hells Angels or anything, but chop chops were involved for instance,” Newark said.

He said rural crime has significantly increased because criminals have realized the vulnerability and have found an easy way to make a profit.

“That’s crime generally, when the bad guys sense an opportunity they focus their resources there. There is a realization there is not enough law enforcement to respond effectively, and there is money to be made,” Newark said.

The latest Statistics Canada Police-Reported crime report, published in July 2018, showed rural areas continue to have higher crime rates than urban areas.

The report examined crime that occurred in 2017.

Rural police serve 17 percent of Canada’s population but reported 21 percent of the country’s police-reported crime, including 25 percent of violent crime, 18 percent of property crime and 24 percent of other Criminal Code offences.

“In 2017, relatively high rural crime rates were reported in Manitoba (42 percent higher than the province’s urban crime rate), Alberta (38 percent higher) and Saskatchewan (36 percent higher). Almost half of crime in Canada’s rural areas occurred in these three provinces, which accounted for about a quarter of Canada’s population served by rural police services,” the report said.

However, in 2017 the rural crime rate declined one percent from the previous year while urban crime increased two percent.

Violent, property and other crime all decreased in rural areas while they increased in urban areas.

The report also showed rural residents in the Prairies are much more likely to be victims of violent crime involving a firearm than rural residents in other provinces.

Saskatchewan rural residences reported 68 victims of firearm-related violent crime per 100,000 people. Alberta reported a rate of 53 victims of firearm-related violent crime per 100,000 people in rural areas, Manitoba rural residences saw 50 victims of firearm-related violent crime per 100,000, while the national average is 30 per 100,000.

Criminals reoffending was a major concern identified in Newark’s report.

One report recommendation called for mandatory reporting by the provinces of information that is already collected.

“We don’t report the number of crimes committed by people who were on bail, or who were on probation, on a conditional sentence, on parole, subject to a deportation order. We have all that information but we don’t report it.”

He said there will be greater systemic accountability if this information is reported.

For instance, if one jurisdiction has a much higher rate of people reoffending it will be easier to see the relative difference compared to the average.

“People might say why is that? Is it because the prosecutors aren’t asking to have the guys detained in custody, or is it because the judges are releasing them?” Newark said.

“Independence and accountability should not be irreconcilable concepts. And the other thing is that kind of information helps inform substantive policy changes.”

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