Trespassing, vandalism, and theft have made farmers and other rural residents feel unsafe on their own land, with many wanting to take the law into their own hands.
In rural areas the long arm of the law is a long way off. Police response times can be hours or days as they try to police far-flung areas and respond to the most serious crimes first.
Some people who live in rural areas affected by crime want to be able to defend their own land, using guns if necessary. Area MLA Glen van Dijken has said before that he worries people are going to get hurt if they take matters into their own hands.
While crime rates are generally down, even in Sturgeon County, it is the severity of the crimes that are alarming county residents, says Sturgeon County Mayor Alanna Hnatiw.
There have been brazen thefts in broad daylight while residents were in their own homes. A couple of those incidents happened in Sturgeon County last year when residents had their goods stolen while they were home, in one case at gunpoint.
Although she didn't have local stats, Hnatiw said there are reports through the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties that there has been an increase in use of weapons in rural crime. Some people speculate that the opioid crisis might be fuelling some of the more brazen crimes.
Hnatiw is supporting a call for the federal government to do a study on rural crime to help find ways to address it.
Provincially, the Alberta government has provided $10 million to beef up rural policing. RCMP and Alberta Rural Crime Watch recently signed an official partnership to work together to prevent and solve crime. These are good steps because if progress is to be made, it will require both police presence and engaged residents to work together.
Sturgeon Rural Crime Watch Association president Bonny Swart said her group has always worked closely with RCMP. In addition to being the eyes and ears in their neighbourhood Swart says her group wants to partner with other agencies to get to the root causes of crime.
American author and sociologist Patrick Sharkey attributes a drop in crime in major American cities over the last several decades to having a concerned and visible eye on the streets. His recent book Uneasy Peace concludes that that presence does not have to be all police officers; it can consist of a network of police officers, security guards, security cameras and citizens' groups.
In interviews, Sharkey says connected communities build tight networks that have been shown to reduce violence. That is part of what police and Alberta Crime Watch groups are trying to do. This needs to be part of the solution in rural Alberta too.
We need to become nosey neighbours who are monitoring the comings and goings in our neighbourhood and caring enough to report what is unusual.
Taking a meaningful bite out of rural crime must involve expanding the network of engaged citizens like Sturgeon Rural Crime Watch to work with police to prevent and solve crime.