The province of Alberta is working hard to crack down on rural crime and improve services.
That was the message the province’s Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Doug Schweitzer, delivered to residents, business owners, and town and area officials. The Minister was in Whitecourt last night as part of his provincial rural crime tour, where he answered questions from those in attendance and outlined what the UCP is focusing on to reduce rural crime.
The Minister, joined by West Yellowhead MLA Martin Long, detailed the UCP’s crime reduction strategy, which includes hiring 50 more Crown Prosecutors, increasing funding to Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT), expanding drug treatment centres, developing harsher penalties for rural offenders, expanding Sheriff’s mandates to assist in crime hearings, and improving cross-jurisdictional sharing of information between enforcement departments.
Minister Schweitzer added the government is working with police forces and consulting with municipalities about police funding and resources. Many residents have voiced concerns to the Minister on his tour about frustrations surrounding repeat offenders being let go after being arrested and/or charged only to re-offend again. The “catch-and-release” practice is growing old for victims, and the Minister noted that harsher sentences and penalties are needed, but many decisions come from the federal government and are mandated in the Criminal Code. Working with the federal government on amending the Criminal Code is another area of work the UCP is committed to. They would like to see more rights given to property owners wishing to defend themselves against theft.
Mental health and addiction are often at the forefront of rural crime, a point brought up by Minister Schweitzer. As a solution, the UCP is working to implement more options for treatment. They are increasing the number of treatment beds in the province, with Premier Jason Kenney announcing this week the addition of 4000 new treatment beds and spaces, outpatient services and medically assisted detox spaces over the next four years.
The overall feedback being received on the tour has been positive, says Minister Schweitzer, and Albertans’ responses will be used to help form legislation going forward. The Minister will continue his rural crime tour until the end of the month, stopping in 18 communities across Alberta. The tour could be extended a couple more months after more towns have reached out to the Minister about wanting a visit.
The UCP government will unveil their first budget, with rural crime a top priority, later this Fall.