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Central Alberta vehicle thefts causing hardship, costs

Victims speak out

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY - Vehicle thefts and attempted thefts in district towns and surrounding rural areas continue to cause expense and inconvenience for residents and businesses.

Didsbury resident Dorothy Weston had her car stolen last month from outside her house.

“It was taken during the night right from our driveway,” she said.

The 2004 Monte Carlo was found days later abandoned east of Olds. The vehicle engine was blown, making it a complete writeoff.

She said the worst part of the theft for her was the feeling of being victimized.

“I felt more dirty than anything,” she said. “I wasn’t mad. I was upset. I have been in Didsbury 22 years and now I’ve lost my car. They violated my rights.

“I had that vehicle for eight years. Luckily I had insurance on it.”

More needs to be done to protect people from vehicle thefts, she said.

Vehicle thefts haven’t been restricted to urban areas; they have also been occurring in rural areas.

Jill – who lives on a ranch west of the Olds-Didsbury Airport and who asked that her last name not be used – had a late-model Dodge pickup truck stolen from her property in September.

“They stole it from our farmyard,” she said. “It was taken in the middle of the night. We didn’t see them take it.”

The vehicle was later recovered in Airdrie with extensive damage.

The expense and inconvenience of the theft has been extensive, she said.

“We were basically without the vehicle that hauls our cattle and we had to make other arrangements,” she said. “It’s not like you can just rent a truck; that’s not something that is always available. We had to borrow from neighbours.

“There’s the costs associated with the time to deal with all that, and the insurance costs as well.”

She said she would like to see more severe penalties for offenders.

“It seems like you are not hearing of people having harsh enough consequences, so as a result they are just running rampant,” she said.

“It seems vehicle thefts are absolutely rampant these days. I hear about it all the time, of people having vehicles stolen and property broken into in the area.”

It’s not only individuals who are being victimized by vehicle thefts; businesses in the district have also been targeted.

Clint Slack, general manager of Mountain View Dodge, says since May of 2017 there have been more than a dozen break-ins and break-in attempts at the dealership.

Those crimes have caused expenses in several ways, he said.

“The problem is it constantly causes us expenses to repair damage,” he said. “Every time they break in it costs us money that we don’t get reimbursed for. That’s the big thing. Financially it is a huge burden.

“It costs the dealership on a financial level that we can’t recover. And because we’ve been broken into so many times our deductibles have been significantly impacted.”

On Nov. 11 would-be thieves used a vehicle to tear down a chain-link fence at the property in a failed theft attempt, he said.

As well as repair costs, the company has also had to shell out a lot of money on security measures, he said.

“We’ve had to spend significant amounts of money putting up deterrence, like the fence, like the security cameras. We’ve had to invest to try to protect ourselves,” he said.

“We don’t pass those costs along to our customers,” he said. “We are in a competitive market, competing with other dealerships to sell our products and services, so we don’t pass along those expenses.”

“The very advanced surveillance system we’ve been forced to invest in has been working as RCMP have been able to capture criminals recently, but not always before they create some degree of damage.”

Slack said although he understands RCMP resources are challenged, regular patrols of the business park in which the dealership is located would likely deter would-be thieves.

Murray Elliott, publisher of the Mountain View Albertan and Sundre Round Up, has had several of his company vehicles stolen from outside his Olds office in recent months.

“We’ve had our delivery truck, a Ford F-250, stolen a few times from right outside our back shop,” said Elliott. “The older ones are known to be quite easy to steal. We’ve had the ignition torn out of it several times because I made sure it had an alarm system so it couldn’t be started, but that didn’t deter the potential thieves from trying.”

Although the truck has been recovered damaged following each theft, the cost and inconvenience has been considerable, he said.

“It’s a violation,” he said. “It’s inconvenience and it’s a lot of expense. I now have to park that truck off-site. It’s just not convenient at all. And I think the insurance companies are getting a little tired of this too.”

A 2011 one-ton company van was also taken from outside the newspaper office this fall and later found damaged in Calgary.

Elliott believes many of the vehicle thefts in the region are drug related.

“I’m speculating it is drugs,” he said. “I don’t know who else would be out in the middle of the night trying to steal a clunky old truck. It’s a sign of the economy and it’s a sign of drugs.

“It’s anecdotal evidence, but it seems vehicle thefts have increased considerably in the last few years. Thefts are so commonplace and I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how you can patrol 24 hours a day.”

David Bray, an automotive service technician at Bumper to Bumper in Olds, had his 2006 Chev three-quarter-ton truck broken into just last week.

“They tried to steal it from just behind the shop,” he said. “They punched the door lock in, went through everything, broke the ignition cylinder and just created a real pain in the behind.

“It’s inconvenient because now I can’t lock the door and have to get in through the passenger side door.”

He said his is the latest of several vehicles targeted at the shop in recent months.

“We’ve had a couple other vehicles broken into. We had a customer vehicle dead in the lot and they tried to steal it twice,” he said.

Although the damage to his vehicle from last week’s break-in was only a couple hundred dollars, the frustration is the worst part of the situation, he said.

“I think the whole justice system is broken,” he said. “As a victim, I can’t do anything to the guy if I do catch him in the act because I’ll get in more trouble than he does. When they do catch these guys they are in one door and out the next; in the front door and out the back. It’s frustrating to the victim or victims.”

Community groups have been working with police to help reduce thefts.

Jason Leach is the president of the Olds and District Rural Crime Watch Association. He says residents can help reduce vehicle thefts in the region by taking some simple precautions.

“I think it’s always important not to leave doors unlocked,” said Leach. “Make sure your doors are locked when your vehicle is running or even avoid having your vehicle running.

“It’s kind of annoying when you are on a farm to make sure your keys are out of your vehicle, but that will slow them down anyway. They can’t just jump in and go.”

Parking vehicles inside garages or sheds if possible is also a good idea, he said.

“If they don’t see the vehicle parked outside, maybe they will pass the property by,” he said.

Reporting suspicious activities to police is also helpful in identifying suspects who may be operating in a given area, he said.

“Sometimes on social media you see people saying ‘what’s the point in calling this in because the cops aren’t going to get there in time anyway,' " he said.

“It’s important that you do phone it in so that if they are out there looking for somebody, it maybe directs them in the right direction. If you don’t let the police know, they won’t know where to go.”



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