Two days after Christmas, Red Deer County Coun. Richard Lorenz became a victim of the kind of crime that has frustrated his constituents to no end.
Lorenz said sometime between 12:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. at least one person sneaked onto his rural property near Markerville and rummaged through his out buildings.
“Then they got into my shop and stole my truck out of the shop,” said the beef producer.
“After that (the truck) was involved in crime in different areas from Red Deer to Bashaw. It was found by Blackfalds RCMP eventually.”
His experience with what many rural residents feel is an out-of-control crime problem is hardly unique.
Around the same time, Lorenz’s truck was stolen, another county resident in the same area had their truck stolen.
Police caught the culprit in that case and arrested him. Within three hours he was out on the street again.
The next day, Mounties spotted him in another stolen vehicle but he got away. The following day, he was found and arrested in a third stolen vehicle west of Innisfail.
Stories like this are common and Lorenz and other rural residents are livid.
“People are getting fed up with it,” he said. “It’s getting to the max it seems like.
“To me, the RCMP are being overworked. You can’t even have a timely conversation with them on what’s going on,” he said, adding police spend most of their time chasing one thief after another.
The province has pledged to hire more police for rural areas, partly at the expense of rural and small municipalities which will be asked to pick up 10 per cent of the costs at first and 30 per cent within three years.
Lorenz doubts more police is the answer.
“I don’t see the hope there. How do the RCMP know to be at my place on the 27th, and they can’t be on every corner.”
Lorenz, like many rural residents, believes laws need to be strengthened to end what they see as a “catch-and-release” system that sees suspects walking free again before police have even finished the arrest paperwork.
Officers have told him that every second vehicle they stop after midnight has weapons in it.
Lorenz said rural property owners believe sentences need to be tougher for repeat criminals, reflecting the mayhem they are wreaking in communities.
“Maybe we need tougher laws because it doesn’t seem to be working the way the system is run right now.”
It has gotten to the point farmers are afraid to start up their trucks to warm them up for fear a passing crook will see it as an opportunity to steal.
“You don’t dare take your eyes off it,” he said. “You don’t even feel safe in your own yard — and that is wrong.
“Something has got to be changed.”
Coun. Jean Bota said some are worried the Liberal Government’s criminal justice reform legislation Bill C-75 — which reduces some sentences for serious crimes — will only make it easier for criminals to get out of prison.
Bota, who is president of the Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association, said the legislation will be raised at a Jan. 28 meeting with Red Deer Chief Crown Prosecutor Dominque Mathurin organized by Innisfail East and Raven Rural Crime Watch Associations. The event takes place at 7 p.m. at the Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion.
County Mayor Jim Wood said rural crime is a province-wide issue.
“Every extra police officer will help because they are so sparse and we’ve got such a vast area. But that’s not the solution,” said Wood.
“We have to make sure that the time (criminals) spend is a deterrent, that the penalty is a deterrent.
“Right now, we have the revolving door and we hear this over and over again.”
On a trip to Mexico, he asked the taxi driver as they passed a local prison if released criminals found themselves back behind bars. The driver said once in a Mexican prison was enough for most criminals.
“I believe right now in our country it is not a deterrent to go to jail.”