Silke Skinner was minding her own business on a cold February day in 2017, when her and her husband had a break-in at their property northwest of Ardmore. The damage wasn’t significant, just some laminate flooring to renovate their old trailer, but it did shake up the couple. Just like their neighbours, the Skinner’s had been hit by a “brazen” thief.
“Of course, the value isn’t very big. But it’s on the same quarter-section where we live ourselves, so the emotional impact was a lot higher,” said Skinner.
“We didn’t want to leave our property anymore. Both my husband and I had doctor’s appointments in Edmonton, which we would have to stay overnight for, and we didn’t go because we didn’t feel comfortable staying overnight.”
The rural theft story is quite common. The M.D. of Bonnyville has put more emphasis on the problem in the last couple years. Currently, they’ve began hosting crime prevention open houses over the next week with the strategies of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).
It was her experience, however, that pushed her to start the Beaver River Crime Watch in the M.D. after she noticed there wasn’t one in this chapter. Now she says they are “trying to be the eyes and ears for the RCMP.”
“I had talked to my liaison officer for Cold Lake and Bonnyville, and I said that if we could get to the whole M.D. covered with members would it really help? And they said ‘Absolutely, because if we’re on one end, and something happens on that end, and we have a rural crime watch that will call us, we can be there faster’…the chain reaction will be quicker.”
Fast forward through the six month process of registration with the federal government, and now the group is active with twelve members. The next challenge is finding board members, and a President.
Skinner is also working on how the call-out system will work with crime watch members. Their Facebook page will report the tips given by members after they’ve been corroborated by the RCMP, but she’s still navigating on how the liaison officer will enter that information, which would then be spread to all members.
“We just have to figure out the rhythm and sequence of how everything will go,” said Skinner.
There is also support from the local politicians. Skinner talked to MLA Bonnyville-Cold Lake, Scott Cyr, earlier this year about the issue of rural crime and he said that if you write him a letter of your own experience with rural crime, in your words about how it affected you, he takes them to the Minister.
“His answer I liked very much. He said he receives 50 form letters, he gives 50 form letter answers. If you write a personal letter to him, it has more impact in your own words, he’ll bring that to the Minister,” said Skinner.
Skinner encourages those anxious about escalating rural crime to make contact if they want to become a member. They can contact her and request membership forms through the email listed on their Facebook page, Beaver River Crime Watch Association. .
“If criminals know that if we’re here watching them, they might be a little more uncomfortable in the area. That’s what we’re trying to do, show our presence and showing that we are aware.”