Jill Mitchell defiantly reopened her Parkland Beach general store after a weekend break-in left her front door smashed and her emotions shattered.
“When I’d calmed down, I thought, they can’t do this to me. They can’t do this to my community,” said Mitchell. “They are not going to make me so fearful that I’m not going to open my doors.”
The merchant in the summer village on the north side of Gull Lake, was rudely awakened at 4 a.m. Sunday by the shrill sound of the security alarm. At first Mitchell, who lives with her husband, Robert, in a residence attached to the store, thought it was set off by accident. “I thought maybe a Christmas decoration had fallen …”
But in the few minutes it took the couple to enter the retail establishment, a thief — or thieves — had already made off with alcohol and cigarettes after smashing though one of the glass front doors. Another door had what looked like a bullet hole in it — although police did not find a bullet.
“To say we’re shaken to the core is an understatement,” said Mitchell, who’s operated the general store in the quiet community for eight years without a previous break-in.
To have it happen a week before Christmas was particularly unsettling, said Mitchell.
“People have told us, ‘It’s a sign of the times … but (nobody) has a right to come and target us. It’s not fair to us or to anybody.”
She noted one of the more tangible costs of break-ins and robberies is increased prices of merchandise.
Unfortunately, rural robberies are becoming more common, despite stepped up efforts by RCMP and county officials.
“Sadly, we are hearing more about these types of things,” added Charlie Cutforth, CAO of Ponoka County in which Parkland Beach is situated. Terry Hager, CAO of neighbouring Lacombe County, said such “distressing” property crimes were the topic of a recent meeting between municipalities and police.
There’s no consensus on whether worsening crime rate is due to mounting drug use or a tougher economy. But police are stepping up patrols and working with Rural Crime Watch volunteers to try to protect properties, and to get residents thinking about installing better lighting and other environmental crime prevention options.
For the last two years, Ponoka County has also paid the $155,000 annual cost of having an extra police officer stationed in the Rimbey RCMP detachment because of public concerns about rising crime in rural area — particularly the summer villages.
But one extra officer can’t solve a growing problem. With huge rural areas to cover, police depend on getting tips from residents about suspicious activities, said Corp. Carman Dutz, of the Rimbey RCMP. “You have to look after each other …”
Mitchell said some new measures have been installed in the Parkland Beach general store to deter future break-ins.
While the store owner is still trying to sell the store (it was previously listed for sale because she feels it gets so busy at certain times that a bigger family is needed to run it), Mitchell was heartened by all the community support she received this week.
“People have commented on Facebook and have called in to see if we’re all right … I’m so thankful.”
Meanwhile, Rimbey police are testing evidence found at the crime scene for fingerprints, and an investigation is ongoing.