Is rural crime actually getting worse in Alberta? What we know and what we don’t

Posted on March 07, 2018, 1:45 am
10 mins

PHOTOS: Unlike these guys, real RCMP officers cost money to train, pay and outfit. When he promised many more of them to rural Alberta, Jason Kenney didn’t explain how he proposes to pay the freight. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.) Below: Mr. Kenney and Postmedia political columnists Don Braid, Rick Bell and Licia Corbella.

We can say with confidence there’s a powerful perception in rural Alberta that crime is getting worse.

Postmedia’s newspapers certainly want us to think it is.

According to a columnist in the Calgary Herald, theft and vandalism on farms and ranches is “an escalating menace.” And it’s going to get worse, wrote Don Braid, “as some people, terrified for their families, turn to vigilantism.”

According to Mr. Braid’s counterpart on the other side of the room at the Calgary Sun … same deal. “Rural folks at boiling point over scumbag thieves,” says the headline over Rick Bell’s contribution to the discussion.

“We’re actually talking about thieving doped-up scumbags preying on people who obey the law, work hard, pay their taxes and are then left to fend for themselves when they become victims,” The Dinger dinged.

Mr. Bell quotes a rural elected official calling out Premier Rachel Notley and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for rural crime and demanding they “get off their asses” to do something about it.

Licia Corbella, another Calgary-based Postmedia columnist, also quotes an elected rural official who says, “our province and the feds, they need to step up and give law enforcement and the courts the tools to deal with these crooks.” This is a standard talking point throughout Postmedia’s recent rural crime coverage.

“The rural homeowner in all of these cases isn’t looking for trouble,” Ms. Corbella went on. “Often they are awakened from sleep in their beds, or they’re doing chores or watching television. Trouble comes to them and these law-abiding people know the nearest police officer is at least 20 minutes away … What to do?”

Ms. Corbella seems to think shooting at intruders is an appropriate response. “Obviously, homeowners shouldn’t shoot to kill thieves,” she carefully states, but should they face serious charges when they try to discourage them by discharging a firearm?”

Jason Kenney, leader of the Opposition United Conservative Party and the source and principal beneficiary of Postmedia’s colourful rural crime stories, certainly wants us to think it’s is a huge and escalating problem.

He proposes a massive, and massively expensive, increase in rural policing – which given his approach to budgets, will inevitably mean big cuts in public services, quite possibly including policing, for other citizens living outside the territory of his party’s rural base.

Mr. Kenney also says there’s escalation in the severity of rural crime. “Conventional thefts have become break and entries, break and entries have become home invasions, which have become increasingly violent,” he told Mr. Braid, who wrote it down and put it in the paper. Note that no one actually seems to keep statistics on home invasions, least of all Statistics Canada.

But is there any actual evidence for this? Any evidence, that is, other than anecdotal claims by people who may sincerely believe the problem is growing worse or who, like the Opposition leader, may see political advantage in getting people riled up against the government?

Mr. Braid provides one link in his anecdote-filled column to support his “escalating menace” claim. That story, however, includes just one statistic from the RCMP saying Alberta detachments have seen a 16-per-cent increase in Criminal Code offences over the past five years, which presumably includes drunk driving and telephone fraud.

That’s certainly a significant number, but nowhere near the UCP’s claims, approvingly quoted by Ms. Corbella, that property crimes are up more than 400 per cent over four years in one Central Alberta County.

Notwithstanding such claims, there is no hard evidence beyond anecdotes to back up the persistent belief in rural areas that drug-addled urban “scumbags” are driving out from the city commit rural crimes.

In-depth analysis by Statistics Canada of 2005 police-reported crime data that compared urban and rural crime suggested otherwise. Granted, these figures are getting old now, but no new numbers indicate anything has changed. Additional federal statistics from 2010 showed the same pattern.

Among the findings of Statscan’s detailed 2005 analysis:

  • Rural areas had the highest per capita homicide rates, and had throughout the decade before.
  • Rural areas reported lower property crime rates than urban areas.
  • Large urban areas had the lowest rates of violent crime.
  • The presence of weapons in violent crime was much more likely in rural areas and small towns than large urban areas.

Has anything changed lately?

The Saskatoon-based Western Producer, one of the few news publications in Canada that pays attention to rural issues, noted last week that statistics show rural crime rates per 100,000 people in Canada are roughly constant, although property thefts are up.

Last year, Statistics Canada reported that the police-reported crime rate in all regions of Canada was virtually unchanged in 2016 from 2015, and down 28 per cent from a decade earlier in 2006.

Significantly, in the 2005 analysis the statisticians concluded, “the proportion of total violent crimes committed by strangers was highest in the large urban areas … This finding held true for all violent offences.”

“The proportion of violent crime committed by family members was highest in rural areas,” they reported. And while their statistics for all violent crimes were biased toward Ontario and Quebec, “this finding also held true for homicide incidents at the national level.” (Emphasis added.)

The 2005 analysis also suggested that – then, at least – rural residents were more likely to invite property crime by leaving their cars and houses unlocked, failing to install new locks or take other precautions. With the exception of having a dog around, rural residents were less likely across the board to take precautions in 2005 than were city dwellers.

Recent stories about rural crime often say residents no longer behave this way. But old habits die hard, and there is no statistical evidence to prove this anecdotal claim either.

It is possible, of course, that some significant but unnoticed social change has taken place in Alberta over the past decade leading urban criminals to venture into rural areas. But there is no actual evidence to support such a belief.

You can always blame addictive drugs, but substance abuse is hardly an exclusively urban problem.

Common sense suggests that the mostly likely perpetrators in rural Alberta’s rising crime rate continue to be rural Albertans.

Rural residents deserve a reasonable level of policing, as we all do. But those who choose to live in a low-population area should understand it will take police longer to get to an emergency no matter how many more rural police officers are hired.

If conservative politicians and their media cheerleaders demand urban levels of police service for rural areas, they have an obligation to tell voters how they propose to pay for it. Hiring additional police officers out of their own tax base is obviously too expensive for some rural politicians to consider. And the cost of policing by the RCMP is likely to rise significantly soon.

Regardless, the sly dog whistles about who commits rural crime need to stop, because it’s pretty clear most rural crime originates close to home.

17 Comments to: Is rural crime actually getting worse in Alberta? What we know and what we don’t

  1. Mike

    March 7th, 2018

    Yes, rural crime is increasing – YES, things have changed. Several of my relatives still live on the farm within an hour northeast of Edmonton (Garlic Belt) and there has been very noticeable increase in break and enters. You just wait to hear which relative or neighbour got broken into last week. It’s all the talk in the coffee shops. My one uncle got cleaned-out 3 times in a year after setting-up cameras, investing in better locks, etc. My cousin set-up cameras at his his farm and his parent’s. Within a couple weeks he got a text in the middle of the night from the camera sytem that someone was breaking into his parents place. A neighbor chased the guy down, but never got him. A co-worker of mine who lives by Morinville said they broke in to his house from the garage, took what they could grab (wallets, iPhones, etc.) while everyone was sleeping. They RCMP found the guys on Vancouver Island. Every day on FB I get at least one shared post of some one who got their truck or valuables stolen from their acreage/farm. I can go on and on, but I think you get the picture. Again, the few examples I mentioned above all occurred within the last 2 years.

    Yes, it is much worse than a even a few years back. From all my rural connections, this increase in rural crime started in about 2014 ish, basically when the down turn in the economy occurred. This is a real issue David and not something the Right Wing Maniacs or the media are making-up. It is quite disappointing when urban dwellers are trying to pass this issue off. Most people understand you can’t have an RCMP on each rural intersection, but make no mistake this is a huge issue and you can see that people are getting frustrated and taking matters into their own hands. The provincial and federal governments need to at least start listening. I don’t know what the answer is but at least that would be a start.

    • Bob Raynard

      March 8th, 2018

      Mike, I sympathize with the frustration you must feel when urban people are skeptical about the rural crime issue, but when you consider all the other ‘sky is falling’ claims Jason Kenney has made, I think you can understand it. The carbon tax did not ruin the economy, people can still afford to go places, the NDP has not been a disaster and farm worker protection has not destroyed the family farm.

  2. Heybudday

    March 7th, 2018

    Licia Corbella is also among the many columnists who said that if you use petroleum products then it should prevent you from being critical of the oil and gas industry. It’s a position so absurd and intellectually bankrupt that it’s hard to take much else she has to say seriously.

  3. J.E. Molnar

    March 7th, 2018

    When you consider that the Tories were in power when most of the provincial court judges were appointed in Alberta, the UCP’s claim of a weak-kneed, gutless court system rings hallow.

    Add to that the myopic financial funding cuts to the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) by Jason Kenney and the Harper government, you come to realize part of the problem has been the extraordinary incompetence and short-sighted leadership of Conservatives in alleviating rural crime and in supporting crime prevention measures in Alberta.

    Tell me again how the NDP is responsible for this current situation Jason Kenney? Seems like Jason Kenney bears a large part of the responsibility for his federal government’s ill-advised leadership. And sadly…you will hear nary a word by the sanctimonious right-wing Postmedia scribes on the points I just raised.

    • Rae

      March 18th, 2018

      How did he say the NDP wAs responsible?

  4. Albertan

    March 7th, 2018

    We solved the problem of a young local guy, who was a neighbour on an acreage, stealing our purple gas by getting our fuel agent to put about 50 gallons of diesel in our purple fuel tank wen it was empty. One winter evening, he stole the diesel, but we noticed his fresh tracks in the snow coming out of our yard and he was stalled a little ways down the road. One of us gave him a ride home, called the RCMP and he was charged with theft. Another farmer in the area was having trouble with fuel theft so he threw some crzy harrows upside down by the tanks. The thief came around and ended up with two flat tires. The thief called the RCMP who came to the yard and also ended up with a flat tire from driving on part of the crazy harrow. That farmer actually ended up having to pay for the 3 tires. It may be that if one puts up a sign by the driveway entry saying, “Enter at your own risk” that driving onto some crazy harrows might be a risk.
    What we did notice though, is when the oil and gas industry became active in the area, we did notice more activity, i.e.more strange vehicles coming around and onto our yard looking around, speeding on the local roads, more trash dumped out by the local roads, etc. We even caught a guy who was driving a company truck snooping around on our yard when he thought no one was around. We reported him and he lost his job, according to a company spokesman.
    We have since sold our farm but we had to lock up everything, which might not stop thievery, but it might serve as a deterrant if it takes more time to bust a lock or whatever. A dog that barks when someone comes on the yard is probably helpful too as is good lighting, video cameras, etc., the same as for folks in the city. We’re also noticing more rural yards putting up gates at the entrance of the driveway.
    What I see with this, in the big picture, is a society where the ‘have nots’ can outnumber the ‘haves’, which is the case for increased poverty begetting more crime. This is why I vote for the politics which would promote more, using capital wealth for more equal wealth distribution, as do many of the financially successful social democrat Scandinavian countries. It definitely has proven to promote more happy and less restless societies. My right wing voting friends are loathe to admit to this though. 🙂

  5. Murphy

    March 7th, 2018

    I remember Corbella referring to the wicked Saddamites putting the Kuwaiti babies on the hospital floor in order to steal the incubators in one of her columns, written in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. This was ten years after anyone paying attention knew that the whole story was concoted by a a US public relations firm and was a bona fide propaganda hoax. Corbella is dumb and lazy, the ideal traits for any Post-media cut-and-paster. Bell proved his mettle years ago when he cowered in terror from Ted Morton, Calgary’s own General Turgidson. Braid shoud be making balloon animals at children’s parties.

  6. Sassy

    March 7th, 2018

    There is definitely a belief in rural areas that the main culprits are druggies from the cities. A quick look at police reports (searching for Alberta RCMP) proves that perception incorrect. I think rural property crimes have increased, but statistics would be helpful for everyone involved. While browsing the reports, I noticed the RCMP has recently increased their crime reduction efforts and may be getting some results soon. Perhaps that is why Kenney is sounding the alarm now, before stats get out. I don’t understand why the PR arm of the RCMP isn’t sharing their strategies (and their stats) with both city and rural media. Their reputation needs all the help it can get.
    “Grande Prairie, Alberta – A stolen vehicle has been recovered and an adult male is facing several charges after the Western Alberta District (WAD) Crime Reduction Team (CRU) made the arrest Monday afternoon.

    WAD CRU began operations last week and will focus on specific targets and projects in various policing areas in the Western Alberta District. The objective is to identify those criminals who have the biggest impact on our communities and work towards the disruption of their ongoing criminal activity.
    The unit is committed to increased inter-agency communication, shared criminal intelligence and a strategic focus on repeat property crime offenders, in keeping with the K Division emphasis on crime reduction strategies.”
    “Leduc, Alberta – On November 9, 2017, the Integrated Crime Reduction Unit (ICRU), Leduc RCMP and Police Dog Services effected the safe arrests of a male and a female operating a stolen vehicle. The vehicle had been determined to be stolen out of St. Albert and then subsequently transported to Leduc.
    ICRU is a recently formed RCMP team whose mandate includes identifying high risk and dangerous prolific offenders in Alberta and aggressively putting a stop to their activities. Property crime, including Theft of Vehicles and Break and Enters continue to be a priority for the RCMP. ICRU is committed to increased inter-agency communication, shared criminal intelligence and a strategic focus on prolific offenders. ICRU is one component of the Alberta RCMP’s crime reduction strategy.”
    “St. Paul RCMP and Eastern Alberta Crime Reduction Unit lay 25 charges after execution of warrant

    Eastern Alberta Crime Reduction Unit (EADCRU) will focus on specific targets and projects in various policing areas in the East District. The objective is to identify those criminals who have the biggest impact on our communities and work towards the disruption of their ongoing criminal activity.”

  7. Randy Fiedler

    March 7th, 2018

    If money is an issue, perhaps many of the rural counties should pony up with dollars. Many have large surpluses – Red Deer County just posted $6.5 million for last year – not to mention reserves they can use for crime reduction and faster response times. Consider though, the federal government pays much of the policing costs, helping keep rural taxes low, which in itself iis attractive to many wanting a rural lifestyle.

  8. K. Larsen

    March 7th, 2018

    The change in the population of rural Alberta has been stunning over the past 25 or so years. For various reasons, the number of full time farmers and ranchers has taken a significant nose dive. Smaller towns are dying because of it and because of the Klein/Harper cutbacks and privatizations.

    Most of those former farmsteads are now acreages occupied by people who commute to work in the nearest city. That means almost all the country side is empty during the day which makes it an “all you can eat buffet” for thieves.

    Those few of us left naturally feel a bit isolated, regardless of the macro-statistics you adumbrate. That the same post media columnists that were cheerleaders for destroying the cooperatives, the Wheat Board and other rural supports are now blaming the social conditions they helped to create is typical of the short sighted hypocrisy of the alt-right.

    Until we follow Portugal, Switzerland, and others by decriminalizing and regulating all drugs, the problems are just going to get worse no matter how many police we throw at the situation.

  9. Kirk

    March 8th, 2018

    I live in rural Alberta and, since you’re quoting statistics from 2005, I’ll let you know that prior to 2005 I had never had any crime on my farm. In 2008 a snowmobile was stolen from my farmyard. In 2012 our vehicles were all gone through and contents were stolen, as well as batteries from a tractor. Three times since then I’ve also had stuff stolen out of equipment in a field. This past summer 2 neighbors vehicles were stolen. I visit lots of farms with my job and everyone has been affected by crime in recent years……more recent than 2005.

  10. Jim

    March 8th, 2018

    Be careful what you wish for, it boggles the mind how supposedly libertarian minded individuals would wish for more police and therefore more government interference in their lives. I guess Kenney was part of the government that brought us bill C51. Put up a fence and gate, get some cameras, do something yourself don’t always rely on the government to rescue you. If you make your property inviting to criminals whether urban or rural they will come. The odds of a cop driving by when a crime is being committed are pretty small wherever you live.

    I guess the increased tickets that will inevitably come with a bigger police presence could pay for the extra officers.

  11. Farmer Brian

    March 8th, 2018

    Absolutely no doubt there is an increase in rural crime. Not long ago a group of thieves went down the range road 1 mile east of me broke into 13 different yards over a 25 km distance stole numerous vehicles, tools etc. Many surrounding farms have installed security gates and security systems. Certainly increase in activity when the downturn in the economy began in 2014. I am 35 mins from the nearest RCMP detachment so let’s be realistic not much risk for the thieves. As for a solution, that is tough. Actually putting the perpetrators in jail instead of catch and release would help. Saying this is a a bunch of BS created by right wing media certainly doesn’t help.

  12. David

    March 8th, 2018

    My sense from talking to people who live in rural Alberta is that the increase in crime is a general concern and is based in reality. However, that does not mean the government is to blame for it or can easily solve it. Some opposition politicians see an issue they can yap about that might benefit them politically, so instead of working on or talking about real solutions to a social problem, they just use it to bash the government.

    There are various reasons for the problems, some related to the economy, some to drugs and other things. Some criminals have realized it is easier to get away with things in the country because the police are further away and in the past people don’t always lock their doors. However that is changing and rural people are becoming more concerned about security. Some of those yards you used to be able to drive into now have locked gates.

    Yes, part of the solution will involve spending more money on policing, but it very ironic that the same Conservatives that go on and on about the spending and the deficit all the time are the same ones advocating for spending a lot more here. They are total hypocrites and I would have a bit more respect for them if they just admitted that, rather than going around and pompously attacking the government. It is a societal problem and partisan attacks are not going to help make things better much.

  13. March 11th, 2018

    my friend have a violent robbery happen to her last year out by edson… she called her neighbor who came to her rescue…. the meth heads got there truck stuck in her driveway with her stuff… the police caught them in her driveway…. with her stuff…. and there case was just thrown out a week ago because of lack of evidence… I know its an anecdote, but it feels real to me from what other friends are saying…im no right wing loon. And fully plan to vote NDP next election. But this is a problem my rural friends say they have.

  14. Sassy

    March 12th, 2018

    The NDP and RCMP have come up with a reasonable response and, finally, we have some stats.

    “Alberta RCMP Supt. John Bennett said property crime in rural areas has increased 23 per cent over the last five years. Offences include break and enters, vehicle theft, theft under $5,000 and possession of stolen goods.

    Violent crimes, however, are down, he said.”

  15. Vladimir Poutine

    November 28th, 2018

    Shoot, Shovel and Shut Up !


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