Finding ways to protect themselves can be a major challenge for rural residents.
“Keep your doors locked, put your stuff out of sight, put gates on your driveways and have only one way into your residence,” says Ken Wigmore, president of Red Deer/Lacombe Rural Community Crime Watch.
Wigmore said it can be “incredibly difficult” to keep criminals out of your home.
“It depends how determined the criminal is on breaking into your place,” he said. “Some are not overly educated, so they pick the easy targets. Others, if they want to get in, they will get in whether you’re home or not.
“If they come in the front door, you better run out the back door. Some are quite brazen and don’t care if they confront you or not.”
Some criminals may also be high on drugs, he added.
“Some people think if they buy cameras, and put them up, that they’re protected. Well, they aren’t really. Even if you get pictures of the guy on your property, it’s not always something the police can use.
“You really need to know what you’re doing when you’re trying to put things in place to protect yourself.”
The crime watch group sends alerts to warn residents about criminal activity; this is done through a fanout system and through a Facebook group.
The fanout system “is done through email, and we realize some people would like it to be done by text message, but our system doesn’t allow that yet,” said Wigmore.
These alerts keep rural residents aware of potential risks to their property.
“One just came out from Benalto Rural Crime Watch, which we are connected with, about a suspicious vehicle in a certain location and for neighbours to be on the look out.
“People will tour roads and areas, will (watch) the place from the roadway, and when they think nobody’s around, they go in there and clean it up.”
The Red Deer/Lacombe group sends email alerts to about 260 people – an alert will be delivered within 30 seconds.
“Our crime watch group also aims to bring (people) new initiatives to protect themselves against having criminals come to their place,” said Wigmore.
Edmonton lawyer Brian Hurley was the keynote speaker at the crime watch group’s recent annual general meeting. He discussed what rural residents can and can’t do to protect themselves if someone is on their property.
“A lot of people I talk to in rural settings like to say, ‘Well, what about stand your ground laws?’ We do not have stand your ground laws in Canada.
“You can’t tell the person on your farm, ‘Get off, I’ll get my gun and I’m going to shoot you.’ In Texas you can, in Alabama you can, in Georgia you can,” Hurley told the dozens at the meeting.
Hurley said residents have the right to arrest people on their property, but you must “forthwith deliver them to a police officer.”
“While arresting someone on your property can be completely lawful, it can be problematic,” he said.
“This is why the police will tell you, ‘Get a description, get a licence plate number … and call us. Don’t get involved.’ It’s easier said than done when your property’s been stolen.”
Wigmore said it’s more than just residents who need to work to keep people safe.
“We’ve been working a lot with the solicitor general and we’ve been talking with the federal ministers when they come through Alberta and try to express our concerns and that they need to do something,” he said.
“A lot of people have expressed their displeasure with the catch and release system, and sometimes with the RCMP response. But I’ll say within the last six months or a year, we have brought the awareness up quite a bit.
“We’re very fortunate to have the Blackfalds, Bashaw and Rimbey detachments on our fanouts. They are getting our messages, so I think the RCMP are doing as much as they can and as much as they have manpower for.”