By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Cst. Tanis Asmussen of the Picture Butte RCMP, has a simple message for car owners: lock your doors.
Speaking to a small crowd at Picture Butte High School on Thursday, Feb. 6, she said that in the early morning hours of Jan. 30, she randomly checked 50 vehicles in the town to see if doors were locked.
“First vehicle I checked was unlocked, keys in the ignition, wallet and cell phone in the cup counsel,” said Asmussen.
In total, she reported that 12 of the vehicles were left unlocked, with two having keys in the ignition. All those cars were easy targets for thieves to rummaged through, with two of them potentially being stolen. She urged the crowd to remember to lock their vehicles, as it is a simple thing to do to protect yourself from theft.
“It’s making the community a target. People know that in rural areas, people are going to be leaving them like that, so they’re making the effort to come from bigger centres — Calgary, Saskatoon — to come over here and get these vehicle and the valuables in them.”
A total of 31 vehicles had been stolen from the area in 2017, compared to 11 in 2016, with almost all of those vehicles having been unlocked with keys inside. There were 43 thefts from vehicle calls in 2017, compared to 20 in 2016, and almost all of those vehicles have been left unlocked or had valuables in plain view.
“You’re making it easy to gain access to your vehicles if left unlocked, it’s a simple thing in preventing it.”
Asmussen cautioned that even something such as loose change in your vehicle places a target on it for would be thieves. If these cases, even if the door is locked, the thief may smash a window to gain access if valuables are in sight, and if there is a spare key in the car, there is now an opportunity for the vehicle to be stolen as well.
There have also been reports of firearms that were being left in vehicles being stolen. Asmussen warned that leaving an unsecured firearm in your vehicle runs the risk of it being stolen and used in a criminal activity, but it is also illegal.
“That’s a criminal offense, so we’re going to have to start charging people with that just to get them to stop doing it,” said Asmussen.
“Because those firearms are being used in armed robberies around the province, they’re being used to commit criminal acts. So you need to do your due diligence, keep your firearms and valuable locked up.”
With Alberta’s winters, there is the temptation to start your car up and leave it running with the keys in the ignition to warm up. However, criminals will be on the look out for these opportunities and it is the leading cause for car thefts. Asmussen recommended either staying in the vehicle or investing in a remote starter.
Investing in video surveillance can also serve as deterrence. Even if your vehicle gets broken into or stolen, police can often compare the image on your footage to that of ATMs, gas stations or other cameras to identify the perpetrator or locate your vehicle. Asmussen also recommended reporting suspicious persons or vehicles in the area to the police.
“We need you guys’ help to start locking your vehicles and taking the steps to stop them from wanting to hit these communities in rural areas.”
The Picture Butte RCMP and other policing organizations in the area such as Blood Tribe Police and the Lethbridge Police Service are having bi-weekly meeting to work together to identify offenders, link them to crimes and bring them to justice.
Although some of the crime are being committed by locals, the majority of it is being committed by people coming down from larger urban centres that know that there are easy targets in rural areas and are exploiting that.
Cst. Greg Dumouchel of the Picture Butte RCMP said that stolen cars are often being used to commit other offenses, and some are being used to ram police vehicles during chases, which puts their lives at risk when trying to apprehend the thief.
Dumouchel attributed the main cause of the rising crime rate to the opioid epidemic. Citing the example of a pair of armed robberies in Shaughnessy and Nobleford, whose perpetrator was sentenced to five years in jail in May 2017, Dumouchel said that the perpetrator hadn’t even had a traffic ticket before the robberies took place, which was done to support a $200–a-day drug habit.
“He goes from never having a criminal background what-so-ever, to armed robbery with a firearm, that is unheard of,” said Dumouchel.
“Because we see a pattern, right, in life, which always ends in homicide.
This guy went from zero to a hundred overnight, because he took a pill and he was hooked, that was it. All of a sudden, he needed that money, and he’s committing robberies with a real gun.
“We are in an epidemic crises. We’re in a state of emergency, in this province, right now. It is unbelievable how many people are hooked on these drugs that are taking over people’s lives and they’re making them do crazy things.”
In response to an inquiry from an audience member, Dumouchel noted that the justice systems does not line up with either the mental health system or the drug rehabilitation system, and more often then not, people are coming out and go back to doing what they were doing beforehand.
Although Picture Butte RCMP will be stepping up patrols in the area, they cover an area from Diamond City to Turin to Barons, and can’t be everywhere at once. Dumouchel also noted that the Picture Butte RCMP don’t run 24/7 shifts, which means that after hours it can take a bit of time to answer a call in cases of emergency, and back up is often coming from another detachment.
“You don’t pay for policing here, the province pays for our contract, so you don’t have 24-hour policing like Coaldale — Coaldale pays out of pocket for us to be 24-hours,” said Dumouchel, adding that the communities they cover can approach the province about it. “It’s not like we’re slow, we’re super busy in this area. And if you don’t see us on the street (patrolling), it’s because we’re dealing with something a lot more important then a guy who’s speeding in a school zone. And I know that’s dangerous, don’t get me wrong, but the guy who just smashed a guy’s head in with a hammer, I should probably be looking into that.”
Dumouchel added that the Coaldale and District Municipal Enforcement unit does serve as their “eyes and ears” when in town, as they report back to them and don’t need to respond to 9-1-1 calls. However, he would love to have more resources at their disposal, and asked for the community to stay vigilant.
“Nothing we’ve told you here tonight you haven’t heard before. Everyone has said that for years and years, take your valuables out of vehicle,” said Dumouchel.
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