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Sundre RCMP crime stats reveal vehicle theft, assault trends

Sundre RCMP detachment commander was responding to question about year-over-year third-quarter increase in vehicle thefts
Sgt. Trent Sperlie, commander of the Sundre RCMP detachment, presents to council on Feb. 12 during a regular meeting a breakdown of statistical highlights from his department's 2023 third quarter figures. Simon Ducatel/MVP Staff

SUNDRE – Despite a year-over-year third-quarter increase in the number of vehicle thefts in the local RCMP detachment’s jurisdiction, members’ morale remains high, council recently heard.

Sgt. Trent Sperlie was presenting to council during the regular Feb. 12 meeting a breakdown of crime statistics that covered the period between October and the end of December 2023 with the same span of time the year prior.

While there were some year-over-year increases, statistics were overall largely on par with the five-year trend.

Assault was the driving factor in the year-over-year increase in persons crime, the sergeant said.

According to his report, persons crime for the third quarter in 2023 were up to 28 from 22 the year prior, but down substantially from 42 in 2019 as well as a peak of 45 in 2021.

The number of assaults in the third quarter of 2023 were up to 17 from 12 in 2022, but still overall down from 20 in 2019.

Break-and-enters were up to 14 in 2023’s third quarter from eight in 2022, but also still down from a high of 20 in 2019.

Motor vehicle thefts saw a big year-over-year jump to 10 in 2023’s third quarter from just two the year prior. But the number was overall on par with previous years, with third quarter statistics in 2019 also at 10 while there were four recorded cases in 2020 and 12 in 2021.

Providing a further breakdown of the assault statistics, Sperlie said seven were domestic in nature, two involved youth fights, three were recorded as family disturbances, another three stemmed from bar brawls or other alcohol-related fights, one stemmed from a road rage incident, and one case in which the motive and cause was not known due to limited information received from the victim, he said.

“When looking at the five-year statistics, persons crime is down significantly from a high of 45 incidents in 2021 to 28 incidents for 2023,” he said.

Charges were laid in most of those assaults, of which three happened in Mountain View County, one in Clearwater County, 11 in the Town of Sundre, and two that were outside of the detachment’s area where local members were called out to assist, he said.

As for the increased number of vehicle thefts over 2022’s third quarter, Sperlie said “this isn’t surprising” given the provincial trend.

The thefts involved were four vehicles, a truck with a side-by-side loaded in the back that then becomes considered two motor vehicle thefts, one theft of a trailer with a quad on it, one theft of a grader, and one quad runner stolen from a hunting camp in the backcountry, he said, adding no charges were laid in any of those thefts, which also was not inconsistent with provincial averages.

The sergeant explained that unless a culprit is caught red handed, it is difficult to prosecute the case even when police are able to successfully draw a DNA sample of a known offender inside a vehicle as proving possession in such situations is all but impossible.

“The way we get the people that are doing these, is we do proactive enforcement. Our crime reduction teams get on those guys and they follow them and catch them (in the act of) stealing the next vehicle” as opposed to tracking them down after the theft, he said.

Four of the reported vehicle thefts logged by police happened in Sundre, another four occurred in Mountain View County, with one in Clearwater County and one in the M.D. of Bighorn, he said.

Instances of breaking and entering were evenly divided between residential, commercial and oil and gas sites, with four happening in Mountain View County, four in Sundre, and another six in Clearwater County, he said.

“The copper theft and the gas and oil site thefts are still one of our biggest concerns at the detachment right now as far as property crime goes,” he said.

Following his presentation, Coun. Jaime Marr asked how the members’ morale was holding up in the face of seeing such a big year-over-year jump in vehicle thefts, and how the local department’s statistics stacked up with comparable communities.

“The morale is really good at our detachment right now,” said Sperlie.

“As far as how it affects them, it is very frustrating for the members to work to catch these guys, get ’em before court and then released on bail, or the charges are pulled for various reasons,” he elaborated.

“The process after catching these people is what is very frustrating for the members. But it’s part of what they do; it’s their job and they have to cope with that.”

As for how Sundre compares with other communities, the sergeant said the municipality is perhaps a bit higher.

“Sundre has a much higher traffic volume” than many small towns, he said.

Quantifying what he meant, Sperlie drew from his past experience as the commander of the RCMP detachment in Hanna, where the general population is similar to Sundre’s.  

“But the amount of traffic between those two towns, it’s night and day what Sundre has compared to what Hanna doesn’t have,” he said.

And compared with cities like Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton, which “are so inundated with vehicles,” Sundre is “way ahead,” he added.

Coun. Todd Dalke also asked the sergeant why Sundre seems to get targeted, and also wanted to know what residents and business owners can do besides installing good lighting and locking up.

“How can we encourage them not to come?” said Dalke.

“Sundre’s not unique,” replied the sergeant. “These people that come from Calgary or from Red Deer and they come and commit those crimes out here, they go to other communities and do the exact same thing.”

Such offenders look at rural areas where policing tends to be a bit “thinner” than in the cities, he said.

“So, they take advantage of that. And that’s in any small town in Alberta right now,” he said.

As for the matter of deterrence, Sperlie said, “I think that’s a process for the court. There has to be more accountability within the court system for these people that are getting caught; more bite so to speak, to deter them. There’s no deterrent right now.”

“For the most part, these people that commit these crimes, they don’t care. (On) many occasions, I have seen people get arrested for stealing a vehicle get released the next day, and they’re stealing a vehicle that night,” he said.

“(But) the other deterrent that we can encourage and we could have prevented some of these thefts – in fact, we could have prevented a chain of thefts – if keys are left out of the vehicles, valuables are left out of the vehicles and the vehicles are locked up,” he said.

The sergeant also asserted that a greater police presence would also act as a deterrent.

“If there’s a risk of getting caught, they won’t come,” he said.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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