Rural crime is escalating in Canada, in particular in the prairie provinces. Manitoba accounts for seven percent of the rural population but the province is responsible for 12 percent of Canada’s rural crime.
“Parliament just passed Motion 167 - stating the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security was instructed to undertake a study on rural crime in Canada. As your Member of Parliament, I will ensure your voice is heard,” said Larry Maguire MP for Brandon-Souris at a Rural Crime Townhall in Melita on November 15. Maguire, along with his parliamentary assistant Drew Ostash, hosted this important question and answer session to find solutions to combatting rural crime. They also welcomed two RCMP members to the panel - Cst. Jason Lafreniere (Melita) and Staff Sgt. Joe Frizzley (Virden Detachment).
“The study of rural crime is ongoing in parliament - and they consider every town outside of Winnipeg and Brandon to be rural. We are very pleased with the committee looking into this and especially that all parties are involved,” added Maguire.
“We are pleased with the turnout tonight, especially members of the municipal councils. We need to pass on your ideas to prevent, reduce and solve rural crime quickly before the committee finalizes its report,” said Ostash. He continued with a report on national crime numbers – police-reported crime rates are higher in rural than urban areas. Statistics from 2017 show rural police services served 17% of Canada’s population, yet they reported 21% of the country’s police-reported crime. The crime rate in rural areas s 30% higher than in urban areas. In Manitoba rural crime rates were 42% higher than its urban crime rate (and this was for all types of crime).
Rural Westman Statistics from 2007 to 2017 show an alarming rate of increase of rural crime:
- All criminal code violations (excluding traffic) – up 44.13%
- Total property crime violations - up 44.23%
- Breaking and Entering - up 25%
- Mischief (cause damage to property you do not own) – up 119.79%
“One of the sub-points of Motion 167 is about victim services, support and victim rights. We feel this is a very important area that needs addressing,” said Ostash. He invited crime victims to share their stories.
A business owner from Deloraine told of two break and enter attempts - once successful and once not successful. They called 9-1-1 and later learned the RCMP were dispatched to Treherne. Following a third call to 9-1-1, two RCMP members attended. They did not take fingerprints and suggested the business get cameras.
The criminals are getting smarter, too. In a recent break and enter in Pilot Mound, the criminals cut the line to the alarm, took out the cameras and were in and out in four minutes.
This led to a discussion regarding police presence in their respective communities and how it has changed dramatically in the past 20 – 30 years. A couple of reasons cited for this change include:
- Members can now work in their home province
- Members do not have to live in the town they serve
- On days off, they tend to head for the city
- Shortage of staff
“Some communities in Canada, such as Surrey, BC have brought in their own police force. In Manitoba there are four rural areas with their own police force as well, including Rivers, Morden, Winkler and Altona,” added Cst. Lafreniere. And some municipalities have also contracted the RCMP to provide Municipal police service in their communities instead of setting up their own service, such as Selkirk and Thompson.
One Melita resident asked about what can be done about the drug problem. She said it is right under their noses – they have watched as children from three families have been taken away and it’s well-known there is meth-cooking happening. She went on to say a lot of the activity goes on in the middle of the night and happens between Melita and Deloraine. Why can’t they be caught?
“Unless you catch them with it on them - we can’t just breach their home. This is where confidential human informants can come into play but people don’t want to come forward because they are worried they might have to testify or they fear retribution. It takes quite a bit to get a warrant to search a premises.”
What can be done to change this? The easy answer is more funding for more staff and resources. The tougher answer is easier laws – a change to the Charter.
“It’s tough in the majority of Manitoba - we don’t seem to get the bodies we need. The federal jobs are filled quicker. We need a more even split between provincial and federal funding - in Manitoba it’s tough, we don’t seem to get the bodies we need and the federal jobs get filled quick,” said Sgt. Frizzley.
As for rural crime, criminals know the response time is sometimes one to one and a half hours. Victims of the crimes are frustrated with response time and then how the crime is not taken seriously. They are often told to call their insurance company. This leads victims to throw up their hands and say ‘why bother’ but the RCMP stress the importance of reporting any and all crimes. The data is collected, trends are noted and these stats do actually assist in crime solving.
“Also, everyone has a phone and a lot of our investigations happen because of phones – it helps us get information that we need. A suggestion was made at another townhall that there could be a facebook page to report crimes. You could text a photo in a private message with no worries about being found out – remain anonymous. All information is important, we have analysts for each area that look at all the numbers, certain numbers are connected to certain people. It helps us map things out and narrows the focus. Manpower is based on statistics – so get the word out,” said Frizzley.
People can also use trail cameras – they are legal on your own property and RCMP can use this as information. Frizzley said he has heard lawyers argue this issue as it shades into the privacy area - you have to make it known there are cameras present, but they have proven to be helpful in solving crimes.
“Some countries offer tax breaks for installing security systems. In Alberta when there was a massive increase in rural crime, a task force was called upon to focus on select individuals, resulting in a decline in crime,” said Ostash.
“In Alberta they also have sheriffs in place, mostly for traffic and court. They can detain a person and then call the RCMP which really helps out. Also, if a person is suspected of being intoxicated and a blood test is required, it ties up two members - this is another way having sheriffs can be useful,” added Frizzley.
Policing in rural areas has changed a lot in the past 20 to 30 years. Their presence is almost non-existent in many communities.
“When I grew up in Treherne the police were very present – they were very involved in the community and most of my coaches were RCMP. A trust factor developed and the RCMP were considered an outlet you could go to for youth. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve had nine RCMP members come out of the Holland-Treherne area. We grew up respecting the RCMP and wanting to be one. You don’t hear kids talking about being an RCMP anymore. This all comes down to more presence needed,” added Frizzley.
As far as recruiting goes, Ostash offered the following numbers: 600-900 RCMP members leave per year for various reasons, roughly 100 join a municipal police per year, 1200 new recruits trained per year at RCMP depot with an 85% graduation rate.
In conclusion, the solutions brought forth by the Townhall include:
- More funding to provide more RCMP in place
- Changes/Amendments to Charter laws – greater consequences/harsher sentences
- Use of auxiliary members/sheriffs
- Use of task force, especially for current meth crisis – stop cycle of addiction
- Make better use of technology
- Justice system changes – no or less remands
“Police presence goes 100 miles further than enforcement,” concluded Frizzley.