'Like sitting ducks': Rural property owners looking for use-of-force solutions
Some landowners feel criminals are treated better than victims of crime
As an Okotoks-area property owner makes his first court appearance facing charges of shooting a trespasser, his supporters — and there are a lot of them — are trying to figure out what they can do to defend themselves as crime rates continue to spike.
"People are feeling pretty vulnerable and they want this to stop," Suzanne Oel told The Homestretch on Friday.
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"They feel like sitting ducks because of the times and distances to get a response or there may be no resources available."
Oel is a councillor with the M.D. of Foothills and president of the High Country Rural Crime Watch Association.
The association had a meeting Thursday night and Edouard Maurice was top of mind. He was charged with shooting a trespasser on his rural property in the early hours of Feb. 24.
The injured man, Ryan Watson, is also facing numerous charges in the incident.
Oel said anger and confusion bubbled up at a recent crime watch meeting.
"They believe the criminals are more protected than the law-abiding citizens with a justice system that has little or no consequences. Often criminals in property-related matters get off," she said.
"They can't use force to defend themselves so it is confusing as to how they should react. People want to discuss this more about what they should do in various scenarios."
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The Alberta government announced Friday $10 million in additional funding for rural crime fighting initiatives.
The funds will allow the hiring of 39 new RCMP officers, 40 support staff and $2 million for more Crown prosecutors.
"This money doesn't just represent a budget and manpower increase. It is part of an overall plan to enable police to work more effectively and more strategically. Keeping our communities safe is a priority. This is an issue we must all work together to address," Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said.
Oel is cautiously optimistic.
"Seeing resources come in here certainly leads one to hope that the results will equal crime reduction in rural Alberta," she said.
Oel's neighbours are taking their own steps, including installing cameras and security gates, and working collectively with police and crime watch groups. But there's still a lot of frustration.
Rural crime jumps 41%
"We are hearing that often times drugs are involved and you can't really predict that behaviour," Oel said.
"The attitude is people want to protect themselves. We are trying to figure out what the law really means here when it comes to, we are not supposed to use lethal force, but what can we use to reasonably defend ourselves?"
Police have said rural crime in the province has jumped 41 per cent between 2013 and 2017, but add some of that may be an increase in reporting.
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With files from The Homestretch