Calgary

Rising rural property crimes prompts Delburne to create watch group

The Village of Delburne is working with local residents and businesses to create a new rural crime watch association out of concerns about the rising property crime rate.

Community east of Red Deer is planning to launch a new rural crime watch group

Ray Miller, a Delburne resident, is among residents working to launch a new rural crime watch group in their community because of concerns over property crime in their region. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Some residents in and around the Village of Delburne are working to launch a new rural crime watch group in their community because of concerns over property crime in the region.

Many residents say they feel the number of property thefts in the village — about 50 kilometres east of Red Deer — has risen significantly over the past few years.

"We got to do something. We can't just let people run around indiscriminately doing whatever they want, whenever they want," said Delburne resident Ray Miller, as he surveyed nearby homes in the community of roughly 800 people east of Red Deer.

Miller, who has been living in the community for more than six years, recalls the time he surprised a man going through the contents of his truck parked outside his home.

The village is more than 50 kilometres from the nearest RCMP detachment in Three Hills, Alta., so residents can't always expect short police response times. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

He says the would-be thief took off, but argues that the incident illustrates the kind of crimes he's seeing in his neighbourhood these days.

"Breaking into cars, breaking into garages, outbuildings and houses," he said.

Miller said he's seen a rise in property crime in the village, which is more than 50 kilometres from the nearest RCMP detachment in Three Hills. He believes the thieves are trying to take advantage of communities that can't always expect short police response times.

Down a nearby rural road, cattle rancher Matt Strohschein agreed.

Matt Stohschein says farmers are starting to change old habits by locking up and investing in gates, cameras and security systemss. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Strohschein said property crime is a popular topic on a lot of central Alberta farms and says he noticed a rise in property crime incidents over the past few years.

"Someone's on your yard stealing either a vehicle or just fuel," he said. "The closer you get to the Red Deer area the worse it gets, it seems."

Strohschein said many farmers are starting to change old habits by locking vehicles and buildings, adding that many landowners are now investing in gates, cameras and security systems to deter thieves. 

Launching a rural crime watch

Delburne officials are now working with residents and businesses to launch a new rural crime watch association.

Village CEO Karen Fegan is helping to organize the new group.

She said the RCMP has strong support in her community but adds that many locals behind the crime watch initiative are looking for a way to help.

Jean Bota, a Red Deer County councillor, says there's increased interest among rural residents to get involved with crime watch groups. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

"They're getting upset because people are taking their stuff," she said. "They're coming in their yards, even during the day now."

Fegan said the community hasn't had an active crime watch group for several years and that police are helping them organize crime prevention efforts.

"We're just hoping to raise more awareness and have people watching and the thieves knowing that we're watching," she said.

More rural residents concerned

Red Deer County Councilor Jean Bota has been heavily involved with crime prevention and education initiatives in central Alberta for several years and says that Delburne residents aren't alone.

Bota said she has also noticed a rise in rural property crime in several communities lately and has also seen increased interest among rural residents to get involved with crime watch groups.

"People are looking for information, new ideas, new concepts – what can we do?" she said.

The crime watch groups have been working with local RCMP detachments to educate people on how to serve as extra eyes and ears for police in rural areas.

In the Three Hills RCMP detachment region, which includes Delburne and the surrounding area, police statistics show break and enters, vehicle thefts and thefts under $5,000 have all increased since 2012. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

But police and the crime watch groups are urging people to avoid confrontations with suspected thieves and, instead, call if they see a crime in progress.

Corp. Curtis Peters, an RCMP spokesperson, said  their statistics also show an increase in reported property crime in some communities across southern and central Alberta over the past few years, but Peters said some of that increase may be due to rural residents being more aware about the problem and more willing to report it than in past years.

"It's important for us to have as much reporting as possible," he said.  "It helps us to identify crime trends, to identify persons responsible."

In the Three Hills detachment region, which includes Delburne and the surrounding area, police statistics show break and enters, vehicle thefts and thefts under $5,000 have all increased since 2012.

Fegan said the village hopes officially launch the Highway 21 Rural Crime Watch Association sometime early next year, and they hope to eventually expand the program to include nearby communities like Three Hills, Trochu and Elnora.

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