Pilot project aims to find what's driving rural crime in Alberta
'We simply don’t have the resources to deal with this right now'
Town of Athabasca Mayor Colleen Powell wants to find ways to deal with a growing number of thefts and vandalism happening in her community's downtown.
But like many other rural communities in Alberta, the town struggles to address the social issues that might be fuelling some of the crime, she said.
"These social issues, as well as criminal activity, is a gathering storm. Five years ago, we didn't have this problem … it has grown. And we need tools to deal with it," she said.
"We simply don't have the resources to deal with this right now."
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A new pilot project aims to help municipalities like Athabasca address the underlying causes of rural crime.
The Building Capacity in Rural Crime Prevention program was discussed during a rural crime panel at the Rural Municipalities of Alberta 2019 fall convention in Edmonton on Thursday.
Jean Bota, a Red Deer County councillor, said the pilot project will look at data like demographics to pinpoint issues that need to be addressed in a specific community.
Insight from local police, healthcare providers and others will also be incorporated into a plan to tackle social issues.
They hope that rural crime rates could decrease by addressing issues such as homelessness and addictions.
But how they'll specifically do that will differ for each municipality, Bota said.
"It's not something that you can brush with the same paintbrush because every community has different issues, different demographics, etc." said the councillor.
"Rural crime is deeper than policing and a justice system. We also know there are root causes in rural Alberta that need to be addressed and looked at."
In addition to the Town and the County of Athabasca, Peace River, Lac La Biche County, City of Wetaskiwin, Village of Beiseker and Sunchild First Nation are also involved, said Bota.
The municipalities that are part of the project's first round were suggested by the RCMP, she added.
'Need a vision'
The idea for the project came after Bota, who is also the chair of the Alberta Community Crime Prevention Association, was speaking to staff at Reach Edmonton about the lack of rural crime data and how social issues contribute to crime, she said.
Since then, several other organizations, including the Red Deer/Lacombe Rural Community Crime Watch and the Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention have partnered to create a draft framework.
Rural crime is deeper than policing and a justice system- Jean Bota, Red Deer County councillor
That guiding document will help municipalities pinpoint social issues and how they can address them, Bota said.
The program was funded by a $200,000 grant from the Department of Justice and Solicitor General.
"We need a vision, we need a direction. We can say we need more policing, we need this, we need that but we need to justify why we need those things," Bota said.
The pilot project will start in March. It will run for two years, with the possibility of more communities being included, Bota said.
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"I hope this shines a light on what the real issues are, what is feeding the crime," she added.
"We know resources and supports aren't always there for rural communities."