'It's extra time, it's extra work': Rural Albertans pay out of pocket to prevent crime
Business owners and residents say it takes money, effort and co-operation
Every night is the same for Paul Galloway.
Before going home, the business owner barricades the entrance of his Leduc property to stop potential thieves from breaking through the fence that surrounds it.
"We put out one of our big 4,000-pound concrete blocks outside of our gate. We close the gate and then we put another one on the inside of the gate," explains Galloway, who owns a landscaping business.
"It's extra time, it's extra work, it's extra expense."
Galloway's business is located on the outskirts of Leduc and, like many of his neighbours, he has been the victim of theft several times.
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This summer a wheel loader was stolen from one of his worksites. The truck was worth $120,000.
"It is a really big loss, after insurance and everything, you are still looking at $50,000 to $60,000 to replace a machine like that. And for a small business, it's a lot of money over the course of the year, especially if it happens more than once," Galloway said.
In addition to the concrete blocks, the business owner installed security cameras and hired private security to patrol the area at night, which he says costs him several thousand dollars each month.
Personal security measures in place
In 2017, Alberta's rural crime rate was 38 per cent higher than in urban centres, according to Statistics Canada.
Keith Mielke also lives on the outskirts of Leduc.
The retired cattle rancher has decided to enclose his property with a fence after his credit cards and vehicle were stolen during a break-in.
"They came with a stolen vehicle and they parked it on our property. They tried to gain access apparently into the shop but that was locked so they gained access to the side of the garage into the shop and stole a vehicle and other personal goods," he said.
Still upset by what happened, he invested $3,000 to secure his home.
Mielke doesn't want to disclose exactly what security measures he has put in place, in fear that revealing such information could make him susceptible to more thefts.
"Even though you put measures back into place, you've been violated so you have that in the back of your mind."
Citizen patrols in Leduc
Gathered in the parking lot of the Walmart in Leduc on Nov. 8, Shawn Cuff and his team of volunteers move from car to car, making sure no valuable belongings have been left in sight.
They are part of Leduc's Citizens on Patrol, a non-profit organization of volunteers who try to assist the local RCMP.
"I see a purse on the seat. You definitely want to get that secured. That's something you don't want to leave in the vehicle," Jeff Fry said, as he looks into a car with his flashlight.
"The doors were secure but there was a purse on the front seat. We are just leaving this brochure behind just to let them know that there is something of value inside and to give them tips about how to avoid doing that in the future," Cuff added before getting back into his car.
The two men will spend the rest of their night driving around the city looking for suspicious activity. If they see something, they will report it to the RCMP through radio.
"We patrol through neighbourhoods looking for anything out of the ordinary, whether it is a vehicle driving through a back-alley continuously or people with dark clothing and backpacks type of thing," Cuff said.
"The economy is not great so people are doing things that they normally wouldn't do."
The RCMP said groups like Citizens on Patrol are "critical" in crime prevention.
"They are leading by example — being the eyes and ears of the police in rural areas," said RCMP K Division spokesperson Suzanne Vuch in an emailed statement.
"We work together by sharing specialized reports with our partners regarding crime hotspots, vehicles to be on the lookout for, and persons of interest."
Rural crime rates in Alberta have dropped in recent years, she said, but citizens need to be vigilant when it comes to locking their doors and securely storing valuable tools and batteries.
Earlier this month, the Alberta government announced a rural crime plan that aims to shorten response times to rural 911 calls by imposing additional law-enforcement responsibilities on Alberta sheriffs, fish and wildlife officers and commercial vehicle enforcement officers.
Government officials have said it would raise fines, with the possibility of jail time, for trespassing on any rural property whether it's used for residential, industrial or commercial purposes.