By Cole Parkinson
With rural crime continuing to be a massive issue across Alberta, the Municipal District of Taber is one of many municipalities trying to figure out how to curb the problem as best as they can.
A pair of concerned residents, Lawrence Barany and Tom Paterson, brought forward a few concerns to M.D. council during their regular meeting held on June 11.
“Both of us have suffered some crime in the past, we’ve lost vehicles and other sorts of things. The purpose of our meeting here is to talk about rural crime and crime prevention,” said Barany. “I think the rural areas are taking a lot of steps to help on that. We are having people put cameras, we’re starting to look after each other a little bit. If we see a strange car, we call it in. What I really want to talk about is the presence of authority. M.D. council, I know, has wrestled with this for many meetings and tried to come up with a solution that makes sense.”
Barany pointed to the federal government as a reason for municipalities having to spend more on rural protection.
“We know the current government is very weak on crime prevention, especially in rural areas, and probably the upcoming government won’t be much different. So, in my opinion this poses a challenge to M.D.’s and counties to pick up the slack and put some money in.”
While rural crime continues to be more rampant, Barany sees three different groups as problems in relation to the M.D.
“I see three groups out there that are kind of bothersome. There is the young Mennonite group and they are kind of spontaneous. They are responsible for some large gatherings, they are kind of irritating but generally there is no damage. Then we have another younger group that is a non-Mennonite group and these tend to be the bikers, quaders and hunters. They are irritating and (while) generally there is no personal harm, there is a little more property damage. With those two, a little softer hand needs to be taken for controlling that. Then we have the third group which is our organized crime element and they come with a purpose. They are armed and usually the arrest comes with considerable risk to the police officers. In all of those, there are vehicles, drugs and alcohol in play. I think each three of these need three different approaches,” he said. “I understand the CPO’s are not mandated to do much on this issue, then it becomes an RCMP issue. That really is the issue in my mind. The RCMP police presence is underfunded and undermanned in our area. The question in my mind becomes, if federal help is not there, what can the M.D. do to rectify this?”
Barany continued in saying the three groups needed three different types of enforcement.
“The Mennonite group are a very important group in our area. It would be nice if we could get them to police themselves. We need to somehow get the church groups involved in this. Maybe there is some sort of reward we could offer for this, and I don’t know what that would be, but maybe the M.D. can help these churches to encourage them to lean on these young guys,” said Barany. “When we come to this criminal element, we need the RCMP. The M.D., I feel, needs to take a more positive stance on this. We need to ask the question — is our policing dollars spent in the best way to safeguard our rural residents? Can we afford to spend more? We need to ask if personal property protection is less or more important than some bylaw issue or some other area of spending the M.D. is involved in.”
One particular point of conversation brought to council by the pair of delegates was around the M.D. community peace officers. Since being implemented fully in 2018, M.D. CPO’s have been doing plenty of work within the M.D. including bylaw enforcement, traffic enforcement, assisting the local RCMP detachment and many other things. While far different from the RCMP, Barany asked about the possibility of the two working together more closely.
“We need to think of a way our CPO’s can help in this situation. I don’t quite understand it totally, but I understand they are mandated in a very narrow way of what they can do. I’m wondering if they can work more closely with the RCMP somehow. Can they be available on week nights and weekends? Because that is when all the excitement happens.”
In terms of extended hours, CPO Sergeant Kirk Hughes is also in favour of some extended hours though they are limited due to the size of the CPO staff.
“Mostly our guys are day shift guys because that is when the majority of the complaints come in from municipal bylaws and provincial statutes. However, when the need arises for things like weekends or nights, our guys are very flexible. Is it something we can do non-stop for every weekend until the end of 2019? The answer is no, we don’t have the capacity for that. Certainly, with the two people we do have, we have flexibility of how we deliver our program. It is a staffing issue, you would need more people to do that,” said Hughes in an interview with the Times after the council meeting.
Barany also asked about certain CPO powers and if there was a way to expand what they can do.
While the CPO program did apply for extended powers when first getting set up, the Solicitor General denied those powers which is common as no CPO program in Alberta has them.
“In terms of authorizations, our peace officers have as broad of scope as any other peace officer agency in the province. It is a supporting role that takes the RCMP away from some of the things that they are better off dedicating their time to,” said CAO Derrick Krizsan.
Entering private land was also a question brought forward by the delegation.
“How I understand it, they cannot enter private land at this point. Can we expand on what they are allowed to do?” asked Barany.
“Is there a way through provincial legislation that we can give our CPO’s more power? To me, if they have to sit on the road and watch a guy steal my stuff before they can do anything, how practical are they?” asked Paterson.
“That’s not true. When you find someone committing an offence, there is no such thing as private and public land at that point. You can do what you need to do in order to get an arrest,” clarified Hughes in the follow-up interview. “When it even comes to Trespassing to Property Act, we can go on people’s property to investigate and determine if a criminal offence is occurring.”
Barany had some ideas on how crime prevention could be furthered in the M.D. of Taber.
“Can we be a designated training area for recruits?” asked Barany. “Could we make a deal with the RCMP to pay for two rookie’s wages, one for the north and one for the south. I don’t feel we need a lot of experience here or expert policeman. We just need a presence. More importantly, we need someone who carries a gun.”
He also inquired about having a training facility for RCMP in the region.
“Maybe Taber is a place for something like that. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had an auxiliary training site in Taber?” said Barany.
With the need for RCMP and CPO collaboration stated by Barany, it was pointed out the two have been working together since the program’s inception.
“I think they (RCMP and CPOs) work quite well together. Sergeant Yetman and Kirk Hughes are in contact with each other all the time. I think the CPOs have helped to do what they can do and maybe there is more they can do to work together but I think they are working together closely,” said Reeve Merrill Harris, who also touched on why the M.D. felt the need to move towards CPOs instead of RCMP enhanced officers. “We did have an enhanced officer with the RCMP and we were paying a similar amount of money. That officer was always off, they were supposed to do weights and measures for us and those sorts of things. They would get trained and then that officer would get moved and we were stuck training another officer. After three or four years, the decision was made that we weren’t getting good value with an enhanced officer hence why we changed to the CPO’s. They are visible in the community and doing the things we needed them to do.”
“Keep in mind, we don’t have the authority to do the RCMP job,” added Krizsan. “In terms of those three sectors you discussed, the CPOs have established relationships with those first two groups. That third group is clearly RCMP. We have a pretty good relationship with the LGM community and the other group.”
Others on council were in agreement extended hours for the CPOs would be a benefit moving forward.
“I can agree we can do a better job. I like your comments about extended hours and I believe we should be extending the hours of the CPOs. They need to be available when this stuff is happening,” said Coun. John Turcato.
While rural crime has no doubt been a big issue throughout the M.D. of Taber, council knows it’s not just a problem they themselves are dealing with.
“This isn’t unique to the M.D. of Taber, this is province-wide,” said Coun. Brian Brewin.