Rural crime initiative focuses on repeat victims

Project Lock Up announced by RCMP and Alberta government on Tuesday

Many rural crime victims have become — to their dismay and anger — repeat statistics.

About one-third of homes have been broken into more than once, according to the RCMP, which joined forces with the Alberta government this week to announce Project Lock Up.

The initiative will see more Mounties patrolling known crime hot spots identified with help from peace officers, fish and wildlife officers, sheriffs and groups such as Rural Crime Watch.

More follow-up with repeated victims of crime is promised, with advice on crime prevention offered.

Some will be offered a Trace Pen, a clever marking device that allows people to identify their belongings with an invisible liquid that glows under ultraviolet light. Each bottle has a unique chemical signature, so it can be matched to a specific property owner.

Britain’s Metropolitan Police in London has promoted the pens, claiming it reduced break and enters by 30 per cent in targeted areas. Invisibly marking stolen property also makes it much harder for thieves to fence stolen goods.

Red Deer County Coun. Jean Bota said any new initiative to tackle rural crime is welcomed, but she questions where the resources will come from to do more follow-up with victims.

“It’s all fine and dandy, in theory, to improve follow-up practices. Follow-up practices? We don’t even have practices now.

“Our residents have a hard time getting callbacks or follow-ups,” said Bota, who represents council on the Red Deer/Lacombe Rural Community Crime Watch, which has more than 500 members among 250 households.

“I’m not looking to blaming the RCMP here. They are just run off their feet.

“I’m just not sure how this is all going to work.”

Bota also wonders if those who will be given the job of following up are ready to deal with the emotional suffering they will encounter from victims.

“A lot of these people who have been victimized have been traumatized,” she said. “Are they equipped to deal with it and do you have the manpower to deal with it?

“There are a lot of people in fear out there — really serious fear.”

Project Lock Up is touted as an intelligence-led and collaborative approach to tackling rural crime and to build on recent successes. RCMP said almost 500 fewer homes were broken into last year and rural crime was down 10 per cent.

Bota said collaboration is the key to cracking down on crime, especially at the community level.

“If you want the crooks to avoid and stay out of your community, you have to have a highly engaged community. At the end of the day, it’s just all about community.”

If crooks know residents are motivated and watching their neighbours’ homes like hawks, they will go elsewhere, she said.

Lacombe County Reeve Paula Law said rural crime remains a major concern with residents.

“Any initiative we welcome to try to reduce the amount of criminal activity in the rural areas,” said Law. “I’m really hoping it works.”

Law agrees with Bota that communities and their residents have to do what they can to protect themselves and their neighbours by keeping an eye out for suspicious activity, locking doors and vehicles and keeping an inventory of valuable items so they can be identified if they are stolen and recovered.

“We know that we have to look after doing a lot of things ourselves out in the rural areas, because there are just not enough RCMP to be everywhere.”

The criminals are not an easy target to catch in the act.

“They tend to hit certain areas and then they move on.”

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