The Issue of Rural Crime

Banff Cochrane

This month I’d like to share a letter written by Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley. I’ve been working closely with her to address the issue of rural crime that I’ve heard about from constituents, and I’m proud to support the action Minister Ganely has taken to work with the RCMP and Crown prosecutors to catch criminals and bring them to justice. Here is Minister Ganley’s open letter:

Over the past year, I have heard concerns from many rural Albertans about increases in crime in their communities. Some municipalities near Calgary are experiencing the highest property crime rates they’ve seen in the past five years. These trends are unacceptable. All Albertans deserve to feel safe in their homes, no matter where they live. That is why our government is taking action.

In early March, we announced a $10-million, seven-point action plan to combat rural crime. This strategy was developed alongside our partners at the RCMP, who work day in and day out to keep us safe. It puts more crime-fighting tools in the hands of law-enforcement agents and more boots on the ground.

Our plan provides funding for 39 additional RCMP officers across Alberta, and already there are officers in half of these positions. Included in this number are specially trained members focused solely on bringing prolific offenders to justice in crime reduction units.

This important work expands on a crime reduction unit pilot project in central Alberta that arrested dozens of prolific offenders, recovered almost half a million dollars in stolen property, and seized more than 20 guns and weapons—all in the span of just a few months, from October 2017 to March 2018. We’re also adding 40 new civilian members, which will free up officers to spend more time in communities investigating crime instead of behind a desk doing paperwork.

The strategy includes funds to hire up to 10 more Crown prosecutors in rural areas, as well as a focus on bait technology, better co-ordination between peace officers and the RCMP, and an education component. In addition, our 2018 budget unveiled on March 22 includes an additional $13.4 million to help the RCMP keep communities across Alberta safe and to hire 20 more officers.

That’s not all. Budget 2018 also includes funds to hire 13 new staff in bail hearing offices, 55 new court clerks to help clear backlogs, four new provincial court judges, another 10 Crown prosecutors and a $7.9-million increase in the legal aid budget.

The rural crime action plan and additional funds in budget 2018 come at a time when Alberta’s Opposition leader, Jason Kenney, wants to further study the issue of rural crime.

Rural Albertans are worried and deserve to feel safe in their homes now. We need action. I’m disappointed the United Conservative Party caucus has twice voted against funding to tackle rural crime.

The UCP caucus voted against our government’s justice budget in a roll call vote on April 19. On March 15, UCP MLAs opposed $37 million in funding during a voice vote. This funding includes salaries and additional supports for RCMP officers in rural Alberta.

Now is not the time to turn our backs on our front-line officers. This funding will go to support RCMP to help recruit and retain qualified officers.

UCP members talk about this issue, but when it comes time to vote, they don’t vote to support our RCMP officers.

While there isn’t a single, easy solution to address rural crime, our comprehensive strategy provides several important steps that are making a significant, immediate difference in the lives of rural Albertans.

I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to write or call me and the many municipal leaders who have offered thoughtful solutions on how to address this important issue. I especially want to thank the RCMP officers who are already doing a vital job serving rural Alberta every day. We are proud to partner with them and expand their capacity to assist and protect Albertans throughout the province.

Together, we will work to ensure that every Albertan can feel safe in their home and community.