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Fear on the farm in Beiseker, Alta., after thefts raise safety concerns

Calgary Herald logo Calgary Herald 2018-03-13 Yolande Cole
CAL031218-gyc-4 © Gavin Young  

As rural crime rates remain in the spotlight in Alberta, Beiseker-area farmer Howard Hixt is one of the latest residents to raise concerns about theft in his community.

RCMP are investigating after Hixt’s tractor was stolen over the weekend. It was the second time his family has had to file a police report, after his parents’ house in the area was broken into a few weeks ago.

“Somebody pried open the deadbolt on their front door and they had quite a bit of their possessions out of their house taken, so it’s getting to be kind of a concern in an area that we thought was safe for raising our family,” said Hixt. 

Hixt, 44, added that since taking over his grandfather’s farm after graduating from university, this is the first time they’ve had farm equipment stolen.

“We’ve never had anything like this happen,” he said. “It seems like it’s something that’s getting out of hand in our community.”

He noted that a year ago, friends of theirs had their home broken into while one of the residents was at home having a nap. 

“It’s a safety concern for us, our neighbours, our friends,” he said. 

Beiseker RCMP Sgt. Norm Mercier said Mounties have been encouraging residents to call in any suspicious activities, vehicles or people.

While there may be a perception that police can’t do anything in certain situations, “that’s not true,” he said. He noted accurate police statistics can lead to additional members and funding, and can allow analysts in the force’s crime reduction unit to come up with solutions for areas that are being targeted more frequently.

The provincial government announced a rural crime plan Friday that includes funding for 39 new RCMP officers, 40 civilian staff and 10 Crown prosecutors focused on rural crime.

The announcement came amid continued debate about rural crime and how far landowners can go to protect their property.

Last week, more than 150 people gathered outside the courthouse in Okotoks to support Edouard Maurice, who is facing charges of aggravated assault, pointing a firearm and careless use of a firearm following an incident on Feb. 24 when he woke up to find two suspected trespassers rummaging through vehicles on his property.

According to Alberta RCMP Supt. John Bennett, property crime in rural areas has increased 23 per cent over the last five years. Offences include break and enters, vehicle theft, theft under $5,000 and possession of stolen goods. 

Violent crimes, however, are down, he said.

“We understand completely that people feel vulnerable and frustrated,” said Bennett, who is in charge of a squad that focuses on criminals who appear to be behind a disproportionate number of calls.

He’s encouraging people not to take on intruders themselves, but to leave it to police.

“You never know how someone may react when confronted,” he said. “We don’t want to see anyone getting hurt.”

Hixt said he knows rural residents who have set up high-tech security systems — a move he is considering himself, following the tractor theft. 

“I guess we’ll just have to factor that into our expenses,” he said. 

— With files from Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press 

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