Mabel Hamilton, who has lived east of Bowden for 40 years, said crime is a bigger problem than ever. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)

Rural crime a huge concern for farmers and ranchers

Rural residents in Central Alberta are starting to feel unsafe in their own homes.

With increased break-ins, vehicle theft and other property crimes, residents are feeling frustrated and worried.

Dennis Duncan, owner of Coulee Ridge Farms between Sylvan Lake and Bentley, has lost thousands of dollars over the years at the hands of criminals.

In the past year alone, he has had his crops driven through and three break-in attempts on his property. Duncan said he is starting to feel unsafe in his own home.

“It’s really tough to feel secure. You hear stories about break-ins and people getting beat up, so it’s definitely a concern.

“It’s getting really crazy, especially in our neighbourhood. It seems like there is a truck stolen every night out of Bentley or Sylvan Lake. It’s really out of control,” said Duncan.

RCMP response times can be very long in the country, said Duncan.

“Unless there’s a gun, knife or some sort of assault it can take several hours,” he said.

He believes staff shortages at RCMP detachments is another reason for this problem.

Duncan said there isn’t much a farmer can do to deal with crime other than spending money on things like cameras or security systems.

“But some of these guys are getting smart enough to start bypassing that stuff,” he said. “We’ve had neighbours losing vehicles during the day when they’re home.”

Duncan said it’s not just his neighbourhood having problems with this “huge issue.”

“We’ve been hearing stories out of other towns that the farmers are starting to get very upset.

“People are concerned and scared that people will come into their houses, let alone stealing equipment and gas in vehicles,” Duncan said.

Mabel Hamilton, who has lived east of Bowden for 40 years, said crime is a bigger problem than ever.

“We feel it’s out of control. You feel violated in your own home,” said Hamilton.

There are three homes at Hamilton’s Belvin Ranch property. One of those homes has been invaded twice, two vehicles have been stolen on their land and two other robberies were thwarted by dogs.

Both vehicles were recovered with the help of OnStar.

A couple weeks back, Hamilton was one of several rural Albertans to visit Alberta Legislature to discuss their concerns over rural crime.

“We’re at a point where every time you see a vehicle moving down the road slowly you take their license number.

“We’ve become very vigilant, which isn’t particularly friendly and that isn’t rural Alberta – we aren’t like that,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton said she has put up gates, cameras and security systems, but there’s only so much those can do to protect the home.

Blackfalds RCMP Staff Sgt. Ken Morrison said policing rural crime can be difficult.

“Rural areas are much larger and more spread out than municipal areas … and the population base is further apart, there aren’t really neighbours watching things.

“A lot of our time is travelling to these calls or travelling an area to do some preventative patrols,” said Morrison.

Morrison’s detachment responds to calls in Red Deer County, Lacombe County and other rural areas in addition to the Town of Blackfalds.

Morrison said Blackfalds RCMP have been hearing complaints about rural crimes and the detachment is doing its best to police those areas.

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