BONNYVILLE – Crime is top of mind for many Bonnyville and area residents, but are trends reflecting citizens' experiences and perceptions?
Staff Sgt. Sarah Parke of the Bonnyville RCMP detachment provided a deep dive into an annual report for the Town of Bonnyville council on Nov. 14.
“A large proportion of the crime is committed by a small proportion of criminals,” confirmed Parke, acknowledging an ongoing issue with repeat offenders in the area.
Covering files that occurred in the Town of Bonnyville, MD of Bonnyville and Kehewin Cree Nation from the start of 2023, the RCMP statistics reflect varying types of crime – some that are increasing and others that are decreasing.
Motor vehicle thefts
The number of vehicle thefts occurring in the area remains a concern for the public. Data provided by RCMP shows the Bonnyville detachment area will finish the year on par or with slightly more vehicle thefts than the previous two years.
As of Nov. 14, Bonnyville RCMP have had 155 reports of stolen vehicles. This includes the theft of trucks, SUVs, minivans and motorcycles.
In 2021, 132 vehicles were stolen in the detachment area, while 160 were stolen in 2022.
Parke reiterated that many times simple preventative measures could have reduced the number of stolen vehicles in the community.
“It seems we get the same types of rationales for why vehicles are being stolen – and it typically is either unlocked or left running, or just something that entices somebody to steal it,” noted Parke.
Nevertheless, the RCMP does take vehicle theft seriously. “One thing that that we have implemented in our area is the Bait Truck Program. That is an RCMP owned vehicle that we deploy out into the community to see if it will be stolen,” she explained. “We're going to continue to do that because there's obviously been a need for it.”
Theft under and over $5,000
As of Nov. 6, the detachment had 387 cases of theft under and over $5,000. These statistics do not include vehicle thefts.
Theft under and over $5,000 is down this year compared to 2022, which saw 466 cases of theft. However, both this year and last year have seen a significant uptick in theft compared to 2021, which recorded 287 instances of theft.
An ongoing challenge for RCMP is catching perpetrators in the act. Charges related to possession of stolen property under and over $5,000 are only a fraction of the thefts occurring.
“The amount of times we catch somebody in possession of stolen property is about a quarter of the time or maybe a third of the time that something is actually being stolen. We are not recovering a lot of this stolen property, or at least not while in somebody's possession," stated Parke.
That is why the RCMP continues to encourage residents to take preventive measures and utilize Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) principles, such as having good lighting, cameras and trimmed vegetation on their property.
On par with last year, Bonnyville RCMP have 105 possession of stolen property cases as of Nov. 6. Last year, this number was 107. In 2021, it was 67.
Business break and enters
One area where crime has dropped this year is break and enters at businesses. So far this year, there have been 78 occurrences of business break-ins.
“This number projects we will come in lower than the previous two years,” stated Parke.
In 2021 there were 104 businesses break and enters reported. That number increased in 2022 to 117.
Mental health calls
“Over the past few years [mental health calls] have increased and have taken up more police resources than in years past,” noted Parke.
While mental health calls have continued on a downward trend since 2021, they continue to require significant law enforcement resources.
“It could be anything from the person themselves calling 911 for help, maybe they're suicidal, or it could be a family member calling on behalf of that person because they see they need help,” explained Parke.
RCMP can also be requested by EMS if there is a need for assistance dealing with a patient in mental distress.
In 2021, Bonnyville members responded to 303 mental health calls. Officers were deployed to 233 calls in the Town of Bonnyville, 45 calls in the MD of Bonnyville and 22 calls in Kehewin. These 303 calls involved 200 clients.
By 2022, this number dropped to 176 calls and 105 clients across the detachment area.
As of Nov. 6, Bonnyville RCMP members have responded to 152 mental health calls involving 147 clients. RCMP responded to 98 calls in the town, 38 in the MD and 16 in Kehewin.
A new K Division Unit that includes a constable and nurse working together that are based out of St. Paul is assisting detachments across the area. The duo focuses exclusively on mental health calls and has been a real help, expressed Parke.
Reactive vs. proactive
When asked what more can be done when it comes to crime reduction in the community, Parke acknowledged the challenges between being proactive and reactive.
“Bonnyville general duty members continue to average between 300-350 focused patrols each month for a total of roughly 1,000 per quarter. These patrols have proven to be beneficial,” she said.
These focused patrols take place across the detachment area and many of them occur during the nightshift and may not always be visible to community members.
“Other than our proactive patrols, a lot of our investigations involving property crimes are reactive in the sense that we don't know about them until they are reported and then we're left starting from scratch as far as trying to determine what happened or who might be responsible,” Parke stated.
As such, Parke encourages the public to report any crime however minor it might seem, “because unbeknownst to them, it may be related to a rash of events in the same area and might help solve the puzzle. There is no offence or crime that I don't think needs to go unreported.”