Alberta takes a deeper look into rural crime

Theft and burglary, farm crime, drug use and production, violence, policing, alcohol use, fear of crime and youth-related problems have been identified as priorities for the Alberta Rural Crime Prevention Framework.  |  File photo

The Alberta Rural Crime Prevention Framework hopes to determine the causes of rural crime and look for solutions

Municipal and provincial leaders in Alberta are working on a project that aims to figure out what’s feeding crime in rural communities, as well as determine how to build social supports within them.

The two-year pilot project, called The Alberta Rural Crime Prevention Framework, has the goal of providing recommendations to help solve the problem.

“We understand what we’ve got with policing and the justice system, but what else is going on with social issues in communities that we can address?” said Jean Bota, who is sitting on the framework committee and is president of the Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association.

“We know the resources and the supports aren’t always there for rural communities. People might come to the urban centres to get treatment, but others might not even get that treatment,” she said.

Bota shared the project on Nov. 14 with delegates at the Rural Municipalities of Alberta convention in Edmonton.

The framework membership will include representatives from provincial and municipal governments, as well as First Nations, rural crime watch associations, educators, RCMP and Statistics Canada.

Meetings will begin in March in the communities of Peace River, Lac La Biche County, the Town of Athabasca, Athabasca County, Cooking Lake, and Sunchild First Nation.

Bota said the framework has already identified theft and burglary, farm crime, drug use and production, violence, policing, alcohol use, fear of crime and youth-related problems as priorities to address.

Each community, however, will have different challenges, she said.

“It is a holistic approach,” she said. “It’s not something that can be brushed with the same brush.”

The issue of rural crime has plagued the Prairies in recent years, partly because of what police say are growing addictions and mental health issues.

Many rural communities, however, don’t have the same level of services as urban centres to address those needs.

As well, many rural communities say they lack the ability to conduct needs assessments, create partnerships with other sectors, and conduct evaluations or cost-benefit analyses, according to the Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention.

“This project is long overdue,” Bota said. “I love the partners that are involved and I’m excited about where we are going with this. We’re going to make sure it works and that it is positive.”

She said the work will complement other provincial initiatives to reduce rural crime, which include hiring more crown prosecutors and increasing funds to drug treatment court.

The province has also created the Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defence Force, training about 400 sheriffs, fish and wildlife officers and commercial vehicle enforcement personnel to respond to 911 calls about rural crime.

Moreover, the RCMP appears to be making progress in reducing rural crime, with the latest figures showing a four percent decrease in property crime this year compared to last year.

Despite the decrease, RCMP have acknowledged more work is needed.

Bota said she hopes similar initiatives are set up throughout the rest of Canada once their work is complete.

“Rural crime isn’t unique to Alberta,” she said. “We’ve seen it all over the country, and we hope to take it forward.”

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