Police pleased with rural Crime Watch success

Prevention, deterrence and surveillance are considered to be the central elements in a successful crime reduction program.  |  File photo

The program has expanded to 190 Saskatchewan rural municipalities from eight or nine that were in existence in 2017

Criminal activity will always be a concern in remote areas of Saskatchewan where police presence is limited, says Mel Zurvinsky, an RCMP corporal who specializes in working with rural communities and preventing rural crime.

However, preventive measures can have a huge impact on deterring criminal activities and reducing personal losses.

The use of surveillance cameras, signage, locks and gated entrances to rural properties, for example, can be a significant deterrent to thieves who are looking for easy access to crime sites where the risk of detection is low.

Expansion of the province’s rural Crime Watch program over the past two to three years is paying dividends, said Zurvinsky, who spends much of his time promoting the Crime Watch program in rural communities.

In early 2017, when Zurvinsky first became involved in promoting and expanding the program in Saskatchewan, about eight or nine rural Crime Watch areas existed in the province.

Today, the program is established or being established in 190 of Saskatchewan’s 296 rural municipalities, and interest in the program continues to grow.

“I’ll go anywhere and everywhere promoting the (Crime Watch and Citizens on Patrol) programs. Some months, I’ll do 5,000 or 6,000 kilometres a month,” Zurvinsky said.

“I really didn’t expect the programs to take off like they did.… I was really surprised with how rural Saskatchewan has gotten on board.”

Zurvinsky, who has a rural background, is a 22-year member of the Saskatchewan RCMP. He and his son also run a beef and haying operation east of Saskatoon.

Familiarity with rural lifestyles and rural criminal activities has allowed Zurvinsky to play a leading role in enhancing the safety and security of Saskatchewan’s rural communities and their residents.

Saskatchewan is a big province and police officers can’t be at all places at all times, he said.

For that reason, prevention, deterrence and surveillance are the central elements in a successful crime reduction program.

Technology is also helping immensely, not only in terms of prevention, but also in detection and criminal investigations, he added.

Security cameras are an inexpensive and effective tool that can deter criminals and generate evidence that can lead to arrests and convictions.

Zurvinsky also recommends that rural property owners keep thorough inventories of their belongings and record serial numbers of items that are frequently targeted by thieves.

“Mark your items, take pictures of your property and record serial numbers because it doesn’t matter where items are stolen from … wherever they might be recovered … the ability to positively identify (them) can result in a charge of stolen property.”

Advancements in telecommunication technology, including cellphones, mobile apps and online platforms, have also taken a bite out of rural crime.

The development of the Saskatchewan Crime Watch Advisory Network, for example, was a huge step forward.

The network is an online portal that allows citizens to report suspicious activities.

Information that’s entered is then relayed to Crime Watch groups and law enforcement agencies.

Social media platforms such as WhatsApp have also proven beneficial by allowing information to be shared instantaneously among residents involved in local crime prevention activities.

Communities that are seeking advice on establishing a rural Crime Watch group can contact Zurvinsky at 306-216-8294.

Among the most exciting new technological developments is Bee Secure, a crime prevention system that was developed by Saskatoon-based tech company Rivercity Innovation.

It was the winning entry in Innovation Saskatchewan’s Rural Crime Challenge.

Rivercity Innovation founder Jeff Shirley came up with the concept after a number of bee hives disappeared from his family’s farm near Saskatoon.

The Bee Secure system comprised a discreet tracking device and a cellphone-based app that together can be used to protect a wide range of items.

A small, battery-operated tracking device can be mounted on trailers, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, vehicles, farm machines or almost any other item typically found in a farmyard.

When the protected item is moved, the tracking device sends an alert to the owner’s cellphone and monitors the item’s whereabouts using real-time GPS co-ordinates.

In addition to tracking the item’s location, the system can also monitor the speed at which a stolen item is moving, its altitude, its compass heading and its temperature.

The system can operate on existing cellular networks.

In areas where cell coverage is poor, the system can also be operated on LoRa networks that use low-power, long-range radio waves to transmit information.

LoRa networks are common in Europe and are becoming more common on the Prairies, said Shirley.

The Bee Secure system has been available on the commercial market for only a few months, but interest in the technology is growing domestically and internationally and its potential as a crime detection tool is huge.

The sensitivity of the tracking device can be adjusted to the owners’ specifications and needs.

The tracking devices, which use AA batteries, function well in temperatures as low as -40 C.

Property owners who use the technology can buy the tracking devices outright and pay a month-to-month app service fee of $12.99.

Alternately, the company will supply the tracking device free of charge to customers who sign a three-year service agreement and pay a monthly fee of $13.99.

Shirley said the system can be used on almost any item that could go missing from a farmyard or remote location.

The company also has a line of sensors that send alerts when the doors to rural residences, farm buildings and grain bins are opened or closed.

The sensors are ideally suited for monitoring grain and machinery inventories in bins and storage sheds, Shirley said.

A rural property owner could monitor and protect a bin full of canola valued at tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars at a relatively low cost.

Alerts can also be directed to a list of trusted contacts or neighbours who live in close proximity to the protected asset.

The company will also develop custom coverage plans for property owners who only require monitoring for a few month per year.

“There’s a common mentality of ‘I’ve never been robbed, I’ve never had anything stolen before so why should I buy the product now?’ ” Shirley said.

“But a lot of the calls we get are from guys that have just had their stuff stolen. For $13 a month, Bee Secure is a pretty affordable, piece-of-mind insurance.”

Details on the Bee Secure system can be viewed online at beesecure.ca/.

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