Many Mountain View County (MVC) residents are increasingly frustrated with criminals targeting farms, ranches, private homes and businesses in the region, says Reeve Bruce Beattie.
Speaking following a special council meeting on Feb. 27, Beattie says he believes municipalities must start to take the lead in the fight against rural crime.
"I don't see any leadership from either the federal or provincial governments in issues related to rural crime," said Beattie. "I think the RCMP's hands are tied in our criminal justice system. Our communities are very concerned. Where is the leadership going to come from?
"It's pretty clear to me that municipalities are going to have to take their own action. We are going to get into a situation that unless the municipalities are prepared to step up, nothing is going to be done."
The county is considering spending $150,000 in the 2018 budget on rural crime-fighting efforts. What exactly those efforts will involve remains to be seen. "We are going to look at some options for putting those funds towards either improving how we can support rural crime watch, how we can support our communities," he said.
One option the county will not be considering in this year's budget is funding an RCMP officer position specifically for the municipality, at a cost of $170,000, he said.
"At this point we don't believe it is appropriate to fund an additional RCMP officer as we had originally talked about," he said.
"We feel that would just be taking resources away from some other community that can't afford it. Is it right for a community that has the money to buy the police while the next municipality that can't afford to do that starts losing their protection?"
Ongoing property crime across rural Alberta is starting to erode confidence in the justice system, he said.
"I think we're getting to the point where people are becoming frustrated with our system of justice that we have today," he said. "I'm not promoting the use of firearms, but by the same token I believe people have the right to use reasonable force to protect person and property.
"It seems to me that the deck is stacked in favour of those perpetrators as opposed to what the province always calls hard-working Albertans.
"No, I'm not promoting a gun culture like we have in the United States. I certainly don't want to see guns in schools or in the municipal building to defend us. The message has to get out that there are going to be consequences."
Beattie's comments come following a rural crime town hall in Eagle Valley on Feb. 20 where more than 100 residents came out. During that meeting federal, provincial and municipal elected officials, as well as residents and police, expressed concerns with ongoing rural crime in the region.
MLA Jason Nixon told the 140 people in attendance at the meeting that, "rural crime is a serious issue that is taking place in this province right now."
Guests heard that theft of motor vehicles is up 30 per cent and possession of stolen property is up 65 per cent over the past year in the southern Alberta RCMP district, which includes Mountain View County.
In a related development, the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties (AAMDC) will be considering a resolution aimed specifically at the need to address rural crime.
"It is asking that there be more consequences for these types of criminal activities and that more resources be put into Crown prosecutors and the court system," he said.
Coun. Al Kemmere, who is also the president of the AAMDC, says supporting rural crime watch associations is one way for communities to fight rural crime.
MVC councillors will consider the proposed operational budget again on March 28.
The Olds-Sundre-Didsbury Rural Crime Watch Association will hold its annual general meeting the same day.
"We are going to get into a situation that unless the municipalities are prepared to step up, nothing is going to be done."