Rural crime is a topic that everyone wants to talk about.
“This is not just an issue in Alberta, but across the country,” RCMP Supt. Peter Tewfik said at a crowded FarmTech session.
Rural property crime actually went down by 10 per cent in the province in 2018, he said. This means 480 fewer home break-ins, 1,200 fewer stolen cars, and a drop of 3,000 thefts around the province compared to 2017. The province has also put up $10 million to tackle rural crime.
The RCMP is also working with other police forces, community groups, and government agencies to reduce rural crime as well as using analysis to identify offenders, hot spots, and linkages to organized crime, said Tewfik, the force’s officer in charge of crime reduction strategy for Alberta.
“We have to be smart with the resources we have, and we have to direct those resources to where we have the biggest problems,” Tewfik told the packed room. “When we do that effectively, we see direct results.”
There is a focus on prolific offenders, who typically commit crimes across multiple jurisdictions.
“We take a two-pronged approach,” said Tewfik. “One part is about catching the bad guys and putting them in jail and the other part is about what is creating their drive for this crime, and what can we do to disrupt that cycle so you don’t have that person come back into the system again.”
To free up more time for patrols, officers can call in reports to civilian RCMP employees. The force is also focusing more on co-ordination among different groups.
“That’s about sharing information with the sheriffs, (Alberta) Fish and Wildlife, conservation officers, and community peace officers. We do a good job of sharing the information about the main people we are interested in, which people who are wanted, who are active in crime.”
The groups also keep each other updated on crime hot spots.
In areas with higher crime rates, officers use bait property and bait vehicles to try and target high-risk offenders.
The force also has automated licence plate readers (computer-controlled camera systems) that alert officers to vehicles reported stolen.
The RCMP also shares information with citizen patrol groups, so they have reliable information on crime in their communities.
“We want an incentive for people in those groups to become engaged and part of that is knowing what is going on,” said Tewfik.
The provincial government has also dedicated more resources to more Crown prosecutors focused on rural crime.
Underlying the crime prevention strategy is data and intelligence. The team at the office needs to give necessary information to officers out on patrol, and use information to direct operations.
“If we target the top crime problem in the area, we’re going to start making a dent on crime,” said Tewfik.
At headquarters, RCMP go through statistics, searching for patterns and linkages in an effort to determine major offenders.
“These people are committing multiple crimes. We also recognize hot spots,” he said.
Hot spot policing came out of urban policing, but also works in rural areas.
“When there’s repeat victimization in a rural setting, places that have been hit multiple times, that tells us a lot about who might be operating there,” he said.
When arrests are made, there are often multiple charges.
“They are usually in a stolen vehicle, with stolen property, sometimes with drugs or illegal firearms. We’re getting three to five charges for every arrest we’re making, which means we’re getting the right kind of bad guy.”
But identifying and investigating these types of offenders isn’t easy.
“They’re hard to track,” said Tewfik. “We put together a dedicated team because it’s hard for a detachment to spend the time following these guys around or dedicate that kind of time. This unit has the time to do that. We want to decrease property crime through targeted enforcement.”
But just arresting and charging offenders isn’t enough, he added.
Many have mental health, addiction, housing, or employment issues and the force attempts to connect them with appropriate social and addiction services.
“It’s all about community safety — if we deal with these guys properly, it will mean less harm to the community overall,” he said. “About one-third of offenders go on to graduate and re-entry programs, and become stable members of society.”
But there was an elephant in the room and when Tewfik opened up the floor to questions, he was asked about using guns to defend property.
“It’s a complicated topic because we’re talking about the use of force,” he replied. “Even as a police officer, when I use force, there are all kinds of guidelines that govern what we do.”
But Canadian law is clear — citizens cannot use lethal force to defend their property.
“What people want from me is for me to say, ‘You can shoot a guy if he comes on your property.’ And I can’t say that,” he said.
People can defend themselves and their families from the threat of violence, but Tewfik said property owners should avoid confronting intruders if at all possible.
“We want people to stay safe and be safe, and at the end of the day, our advice is not to engage with these people,” he said. “These people are not wired the same way as the rest of us, and things are not going to unfold the way you think they are going to unfold. They can be unpredictable.”
He urged his audience not to put themselves in harm’s way.
“There’s less than one per cent chance that you will be attacked on your property, that someone will be coming on your property, that a stranger is coming to attack you.”
The best thing to do is call 911, he said. Dispatchers will alert the nearest patrol car, and the officer or officers will respond. But there is an order of priority, which means that some people may wait, he said.