Police officers say people need to come together to keep their communities safe.
Several crime watch and prevention groups are operating in Red Deer, Penhold and Red Deer County. These groups also have a big presence on social media, some with thousands of likes on Facebook.
Blackfalds Staff Sgt. Ken Morrison said these groups are especially helpful in rural areas.
“I can’t put out enough police officers to cover all areas (of Red Deer and Lacombe counties) at any given time so we need the public to be our eyes and ears and provide us with reports of suspicious activity,” said Morrison.
Morrison said Blackfalds RCMP is in constant communication with the Red Deer and Lacombe County Rural Crime Watch group.
Over the past few years, the detachment has received almost one call a day reporting a suspicious person or vehicle.
“Red Deer and Lacombe County Rural Crime Watch has been spearheading a lot of that,” he said. “I know they’re working together to do patrols, similar to what rural crime watch used to do years ago. I think that’s a great initiative.”
Morrison said anyone who is looking for suspicious activity while patrolling their neighbourhood should not do it alone but in pairs. It’s also important to not approach or chase a suspicious person – just gather a description and licence plate if possible.
“We’ve seen situations where these suspicious people do become violent and innocent bystanders are hurt as a result,” he said.
It’s important people think twice before posting something on social media, whether it be a photo of a suspicious person or information they heard listening to a scanner, Morrison said.
A couple of years ago, police officers were searching for suspects after an armed robbery in Blackfalds. People were listening to police movements on a scanner and posted it on social media.
“We had to put a message on social media to ask people to stop posting where we were and what we were doing,” said Morrison.
Tweeting police movements can be a danger to officers and the public, he added.
“The public means well, but inadvertently the criminal is gathering that information from social media,” he said.
Even though posting photos or police activity online isn’t always the best idea, Morrison said people should report any suspicious activity to the police.
“Quite often we’ve gone out to a suspicious vehicle call and it’s just been something like a truck delivering water. But I would sooner people report it to us – just not necessarily over social media,” said Morrison.
Cpl. Karen Kay with the Red Deer RCMP detachment said members of crime watch groups need to be careful for the sake of their own safety and the investigation.
“They need to be very cautious of what they’re doing,” Kay said. “They can very much interfere in a police investigation and at the end of the day we can’t make an arrest if our process is interfered with.”
It’s important for crime watch group members or anyone who spots suspicious activity to call the police.
“We encourage those people to do things properly and let the police know what’s going on. They’re not investigators, they’re not trained police officers and they shouldn’t try to do the work of law enforcement,” she said.
If you see something suspicious, but are unsure if it’s anything criminal, Kay said don’t post a photo of the person to social media, just call the police.
Kay said if someone was looking for their lost dog had their picture posted online as a potential criminal, it could lead to conflict.
“It’s unfair to the poor guy who’s just looking for his dog to have his face plastered all over social media. It’s not OK.
“If you’re unsure, give us a call. That’s our job,” said Kay.
Kay said social media can be a great tool to solve crimes as well. She said there have been numerous stolen vehicles found because a photo of the vehicle was posted online.