Rural crime front of mind as Mounties look to build off success entering 2019

After a year that saw Alberta Mounties launch a rural crime reduction program, the force’s new commander says they won’t be letting up on the fight.

RCMP Alberta commanding officer and Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki said the force will be looking at new initiatives to build on the intelligence-driven unit.

“I’m really encouraged by what I’m seeing here in Alberta,” said Zablocki, who was appointed to the vacant post in September.

“The end result is that these strategies are working. To this point, we’ve had really good success with the initiatives really to prevent all types of crime, but more particularly property crime, or rural crime.”

Between January and September of this year, the rates of property crimes, like break-and-enters and theft, have dropped nine per cent in comparison to the same time last year, Zablocki said, who came to the province after serving as Saskatchewan’s commanding officer for the past two years.

Alberta RCMP commanding officer Curtis Zablocki is seen in this RCMP supplied photo.

Property crime in all RCMP jurisdictions has decreased nine per cent between January and July, while crimes in rural detachments decreased by 11 per cent.

The reductions have added up to 638 fewer stolen cars, 366 fewer break-and-enters, and 3,358 fewer thefts in Alberta, RCMP reported.

Mounties have said the new crime reduction units made 533 arrests and laid 1,628 charges in a little over six months, with every arrest netting between three to five charges each.

While happy with the results thus far, Zablocki said the work is far from being over.

“While these … crime stats are important to us, perhaps more important to us is how do people feel?” he said.

“Do people feel safe in their home? Do they feel safe in their community? It’s important to have that perspective when we talk about crime stats.”

The next steps for Mounties, Zablocki said, is to expand on the next phase of their crime reduction plans — targeting prolific offenders.

“(It’s about) identifying those who can victimize, and perhaps victimize multiple times,” he said.

“We’ve got some strategies in place in that regard, and suffice to say more (strategies) to come in the new year. If we don’t have that solid foundation of trust and confidence, we’re not going to achieve much with our initiatives.

“For me, as the new commanding officer in the division, that’s certainly going to be a platform we develop moving into 2019.”

Alberta’s struggle with rural crime came into sharp focus last year when Okotoks-area rancher Edouard Maurice fired a warning shot at intruders on his property that ricocheted, striking one of them.

It was 5 a.m. when Maurice said he fired two shots after finding people near his vehicle, lights running.

Jessica and Eddie Maurice at their home near Okotoks, Ab., on Friday September 14, 2018.

He said it took officers two hours to respond to his rural property — a claim Mounties have declined to comment on — and he was subsequently charged with careless use of a firearm, aggravated assault and pointing a firearm. All charges were ultimately dropped.

Maurice quickly became the face of the fight against rural crime, with frustration surfacing about long wait times for officers to attend calls in rural areas.

Noting the 20-minute average response time touted by the national force holds a caveat due to distance in some cases, Zablocki said some work has been done on reducing those times.

“We’re looking at various strategies like that as well, but what’s really important … there’s inherent challenges in rural policing around visibility and response times,” said Zablocki, adding that relationships with rural crime watch groups allow for more eyes and ears to be on the ground.

“Our community-led agencies and groups are very important to us and, of course, we are looking for ways to enhance and move that type of assistance forward — all with a view of making people feel safe in their homes and communities.”

zlaing@postmedia.com

On Twitter: @zjlaing

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