Central Alberta Crime Watch groups are considering amalgamating as they consider their role in a social-media-saturated world.
Red Deer/Lacombe Rural Community Crime Watch intends to reach out to others in central Alberta to consider joining forces and forming a regional crime watch.
Jean Bota, secretary of the Red Deer and Lacombe group, said on Friday that they have been taking a hard look at where they fit in among the numerous crime-reporting Facebook pages and crime-reporting apps, such as Lightcatch.
“We really have to start looking at what is our purpose and who is our audience and what are we doing,” said Bota.
Their Crime Watch group remains very active. Bota said she or president Ken Wigmore regularly out notifications to the 170 members included in their fan-out list and they regularly update their Facebook page.
It remains an important source of crime activity and crime prevention information for its audience, which includes many seniors who are less likely to turn to social media for updates.
“That rural crime watch fan out to some people is their only connection to the outside world because they are not on social media,” said Bota.
She often sends information on the latest fraud scams. “I tell you, this stuff is going on all the time and it’s just getting worse.”
She was tipped off recently by a woman connected with a Sunrise County Crime Watch group about a paving scam that Bota passed on to local members.
Crime Watch groups are facing challenges though. Volunteer burnout is a major concern. Many Crime Watch volunteers are seniors and as they leave it is getting harder to replace them.
Red Deer/Lacombe Rural Crime Watch held its annual general meeting on Thursday and much of the discussion centred around whether to form a regional group with other central Alberta organizations. There are Crime Watches in Clearwater County, Rimbey, Eckville, Rimbey, Raven, Medicine River and others.
A meeting is set for Sept. 19 to see what groups are interested in joining forces.
“Doing a regional Crime Watch you get a little more creativity,” said Bota. “Every area has its own issues.”
A regional group would also create a larger pool of volunteers to call on. “You can wear out your volunteers really fast,” she said.
Crime Watch president Ken Wigmore believes the organization is at a crossroads.
People do not seem to report to them as they much did, likely because of all of the social media outlets for crime reporting now.
“Unless we hear it through the grapevine, we don’t get much notice,” he said.
RCMP remain supportive. Earlier this summer, area detachments started sending out a crime round-up, which has generated some interest from Crime Watch members.
Joining forces in a regional Crime Watch could well give the organization a boost and give them a chance to review their mission.
“We’re just trying to figure out what our relevance is in the world and where we’re at,” he said.
Olds Rural Crime Watch president Jason Leach said they have about 400 members who are on an email fan-out list and it has an active Facebook page.
One of the challenges of social media is that many people will post online about their frustration with crime or their personal experience of being targeted by thieves but do not let the police know.
Leach said they remind people venting about crime to make sure they report incidents to police, regardless of whether they think it will be fruitless.
“The social media people they maybe get on there and complain. But if you don’t pass the information on to the police you really shouldn’t be complaining because they can’t act on information if they don’t have it.”
Olds Rural Crime Watch, which is aligned with Crime Watch in Didsbury and Sundre, is facing challenges getting its information out to its members. A fan-out system stopped operating and they are looking into a replacement system, but they are not a lot of options and they tend to be expensive.
“We’re going through that right now, trying to get that set up.”
An aging volunteer base is also an issue. Leach is in his 40s and one of the youngest in the group.
While they routinely receive updates from the police — they can get 20 to 30 emails a day — a constant challenge is getting information out fast enough for it to be useful.
Olds Rural Crime Watch is also limited in the kind of tips it can dispense. Its insurance requires information to come from official law enforcement sources, a result of a legal issue that arose when a stalker was using Crime Watch to get information on their victim.
Leach said they are considering reaching out to some of the administrators of community watch pages or Facebook sites that involve stolen vehicles and other crimes to see how they can work together to get the word out.
“I think we may try to involve them a bit more … so that we can send them the same information that we get from the police. It may end up that Crime Watch becomes an intermediary and an advocacy group that says ‘If you see something, say something.’”
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