Over the past year, some communities in the Lakeland region have been faced with an increase in criminal incidents, raising concerns for many people across the area.
The City of Cold Lake has experienced a diverse range of incidents, highlighting a wide spectrum of criminal activity from theft to vandalism. Cold Lake Mayor Craig Copeland shed light on some of the incidents, stating, “It all varies. We’ve had a lot of catalytic converters stolen, both City and business. We’ve had City vehicles whose fuel has been drilled out of the gas tank.”
Copeland highlighted the persistent nature of vandalism and thefts being reported, expressing frustration over the challenges faced in apprehending the individuals responsible.
“In some cases, we are unable to catch the individuals, and then when they are caught, the court system looks at the case file and [sometimes] doesn’t want to prosecute the file, and then the person is released, or the sentencing is extremely light.”
Recent vandalism incidents include damage at the Cold Lake Energy Center, which resulted in the closure of the men’s washroom due to extensive destruction of the toilet, sinks, and dispensers along with other damage such as graffiti.
A surge in property crime has overwhelmed the Cold Lake RCMP with reported incidents straining their resources. Cpl. Jlanaie Crezier, an RCMP officer working in Cold Lake, acknowledged this trend, stating, “We could definitely use more resources. We are overwhelmed because we are a small detachment, but we do our best with proactive policing as well.”
As reported by the Cold Lake RCMP, the theft of motor vehicles has surged by 41 per cent, accompanied by a 31 per cent increase in possession of stolen goods from January to December of this year. These statistics have heightened concerns among residents across the area.
In St. Paul, there has been a troubling increase in vehicle break-ins over the past year, prompting efforts to raise awareness and vigilance among residents. Town of St. Paul Mayor Maureen Miller stressed the importance of community-wide action.
“Everyone has to up their game – make sure their doors are locked, don’t leave valuables out in their yard to be stolen, [ensure] your vehicles are locked [and] your car isn’t running, because it happens,” says Miller.
St. Paul’s proactive approach to dealing with the issues involves a multifaceted strategy to address crime. Speaking specifically to vehicle thefts, Miller noted that over the past year, several vehicles have been found idling with doors unlocked or keys inside. So, there was an opportunity to re-educate and remind people in the community that “crimes of opportunity” very much exist.
As per the St. Paul RCMP, there has been an 11 per cent increase in break-ins and a two per cent rise in motor vehicle thefts from January to December of this year.
Bonnyville, too, grapples with challenges concerning property theft. Bonnyville RCMP Staff Sgt. Sarah Parke confirmed that “Break and enters and vehicle thefts are crimes that are committed in Bonnyville (Town and MD) on a relatively consistent basis. The amount of vehicle thefts and break and enters can fluctuate from week to week [or] month to month.”
She adds, “With the colder months now upon us, vehicle thefts could potentially rise even more due to vehicles left running. Bonnyville RCMP cannot stress enough the preventative steps to keeping your vehicle safe.”
According to the Bonnyville RCMP, there have been 176 reported vehicle thefts to date in 2023, compared to 166 in 2022. However, there has been a decrease in business break-ins, with the number dropping from 117 in 2022 to 86 incidents so far in 2023.
Of course, crime is not solely focused on vehicle thefts, and businesses are still finding themselves to be a target. Ryan Lefebvre, President of Cold Lake’s Chamber of Commerce, expressed concern over the situation, stating, “Unfortunately, it’s gotten to a nightly occurrence. There’s always someone posting something [about a recent incident].”
Lefebvre noted that numerous businesses have hired private security companies to monitor their premises. Additionally, the Chamber has distributed a newsletter outlining preventive measures for businesses to deter break-ins.
“We have sent out tips in our Chamber newsletter on how to prevent the acts from happening, mainly making sure there is very good lighting in the front, security systems, cameras, making sure they are visible, and foliage. We encourage businesses to cut [trees] down or take them out,” Lefebvre explained.
Copeland expressed concern about the City’s financial constraints in addressing issues related to crime.
“I don’t think the City has enough money to deal with what’s going on here. We need provincial and federal help, and just like communities across Canada, it’s time that we have some higher authority step in and get involved in what’s going on in these communities,” said Copeland.
By Chantel Downes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Dec 23, 2023 at 17:16