Kneehill County is bolstering its Protective Services Department to help curb a recent rash of rural crime.
Rural crime has been in the headlines over the last year with many reports of stolen vehicles and prowling around farms and oilfield sites. Kneehill County Reeve Jerry Wittstock, is concerned.
“It’s disheartening. I have always lived in rural areas and I always felt very safe. I have never been targeted for crime,” said Wittstock. “There has been the odd thing that has come up, but that being said, we were never concerned with someone coming in to do harm to you or your family or equipment. I guess it is becoming more prevalent. It is the economy driving it I guess.”
Kneehill County is adding a Level 2 Community Peace Officer to boost safety. This was identified as a priority in its strategic planning session.
“It is for visibility ultimately. We want someone to get out there,” said Reeve Wittstock.
He says currently they have two peace officers on staff. The new position will be dedicated to doing patrols in rural areas. He adds that it will be difficult to quantify if a peace officer will deter rural crime. While a level two peace officer is able to enforce the Traffic Safety Act, they do not carry a firearm and are not able to investigate criminal matters.
“We have to start someplace, and that’s where we chose to start. This peace officer is going to be more dedicated to travelling the gravel roads and doing the rural visibility side of it,” said Wittstock.
He hopes the presence will make criminals think twice.
“The RCMP is doing as good of a job as they can do, but we in Kneehill County, we have five different detachments patrolling the county,” he said. “You could think ‘that’s great.’ But you can also look at it like there are five different areas, and we are on the extremities of these police detachments,” he said.
The county also announced it would be hiring a Regional Fire Chief. Wittstock says this is not a new initiative.
“We have had somebody in that position since 2004,” said Wittstock. “It has been two or three years that the position has been vacant, and we chose to fill it again.”
“It came to our attention last fall with the dry conditions. There were wildfires in Wheatland and we had a wildfire here. We felt we needed someone who will really pay specific attention to our rural residents as far as supplying the right equipment, having the right kind of stuff for those fires, they bust through in a hurry and do a lot of damage.”