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Police discuss best ways to keep rural properties safe from crime

RCMP jumpstart town halls with digital information session

ATHABASCA – Staff Sgt. Mark Hall and other members of the Athabasca RCMP leadership team brought in outside information for their first town hall in 2024.

Hall and Cpl. Dan Fenton were joined by an RCMP expert on property crime reduction, as well as a member of the Mountie’s Alberta dispatch centre for their virtual Feb. 15 presentation.

Jennifer Kee, a member of ‘K’ Division’s Project Lock Up and crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) team, spoke for much of the presentation, talking about the best practices property owners can utilize to “harden” their property against criminals.

“We basically take the property, and we try to make it less appealing to criminals and criminal activity,” said Kee.

Project Lock Up is an RCMP program first launched in 2019. The program seeks to help victims who have been repeatedly targeted by property crime take steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again, typically through the assistance of specialists like Kee. Properties are assigned ratings of bronze, silver, or gold, depending on the frequency crime has occurred there in the last 18 months.

In Athabasca, there are zero gold properties (five or more break and enters), two silver properties (between two and four break and enters) and five bronze properties (one break and enter). Kee clarified that it doesn’t mean the house was broken into, it could be an outbuilding, shed, or garage.

“Through our CPTED assessments, we’re trying to take away one, if not all, angles in order to reduce criminal activity,” said Kee. 

“We’re aware that criminals operate on a risk/gain matrix. When they’re looking at a property, criminals are looking to see if there’s a low risk of them being detected or apprehended, with a high reward.”

Kee spent almost 30 minutes going over ways rural Albertans can protect their property, including the installation of security cameras and lighting that work together to reflect the best possible image, trimming trees and shrubs to ensure open and available sight lines, and upgrading locks to delay would-be-burglars for as long as possible.

“If there’s nothing on the property they can spot while running by, the gain is really low,” said Kee. “CPTED’s four key benefits are the reduction of crime, reduction of the potential for crime, decreased fear of crime, and it empowers property owners to tackle crime.”

Kee said a major focus for crime prevention in rural Alberta is how to delay potential criminals — given the size of rural RCMP detachments, there may not be an officer within a five-minute drive.

“I’ve heard it many times, if (a criminal) wants to get to something, they’re going to get to it, but what we focus on is making them work for it. Let’s have that time delay so we can have the opportunity for it to be detected, to have the officers notified, and to let them respond to the crime.”

Calling Lake Concerns

Hall addressed related community concerns in Calling Lake — since a state of local emergency was declared in the hamlet in October 2023, community members have been asking for their own detachment, instead of having to rely on officers driving out from Athabasca.

“Right now, it’s not an RCMP action that we can do ourselves. Really, it’s an Alberta government change in contract where they would have to tell us they want to have a detachment there, and then we could start working out how to fill one out,” said Hall.

The Mounties will be in Calling Lake in the upcoming weeks — no date has been confirmed yet — for an in-person town hall with community members.

The Athabasca detachment is also looking for community feedback on next year’s priorities. With the new fiscal year starting in April, Hall said he is open to suggestions from the community on what the men and women in his detachment should be focusing on.

“Are there any safety concerns you feel should be addressed? What about feedback and communication? Do you want to see more town halls or media releases?” asked Hall. 

“What sort of success metrics would you like to see? Is it the number of arrests, is it the number of tickets, or community engagement items? This is what we’re looking to hear back on.”

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Cole Brennan

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