Property rights and police staffing were the focus of discussions at a town hall meeting between RCMP and residents in Biggar, Sask. on Monday evening.
Several farmers and business owners voiced concerns over what they would be legally able to do to defend their property from would-be thieves, some citing the case of their neighbour Gerald Stanley.
Stanley was charged with second-degree murder after shooting 22-year-old Colten Boushie on his farm near Biggar on Aug. 9, 2016. He was found not guilty by a jury last month.
RCMP Staff Sgt. Greg Abbott told the crowd of dozens they should ensure their family’s safety, but shouldn’t invite trouble.
“If you have the chance to avoid a confrontation with a criminal, do it,” he said.
Abbott noted the thief could have a gun, and warning shots from the property owner could set off a firefight.
“We could get to the farm and you are alone and dead with a bullet in you,” he said to one farmer.
Beyond that the RCMP officers at the meeting wouldn’t offer specific details, saying the legality of any altercation would “depend on the circumstances.”
The answer left residents like Stan Brodzky frustrated.
“They never explained anything about property rights,” he said.
Abbott was joined by Biggar detachment commander Sgt. Colin Sawrenko, who urged the people gathered to report all suspicious activity and thefts to his officers.
He showed the town hall statistics indicating low property crime in the area, saying 2017’s numbers had fallen back to 2011 levels.
Sawrenko noted several residents had told him they’ve stopped reporting crime.
“I can’t allocate resources to a problem I don’t know exists,” he said.
Rob Danychuk is one of those disillusioned farmers.
In an interview after the town hall, he told 650 CKOM he’s lost about $6,000 in property due to theft in the past two years.
He said he doesn’t have the time to wait six hours for RCMP to show up for an investigation.
“You get to a point where you get to the tractor and the fuel cap’s off and the tank’s empty, you just fill it up and you go again,” he said.
“You think maybe you should have driven it the extra two miles to be closer to the neighbour’s (farm), but that doesn’t always happen.”
Staffing shortages ‘stressful’: RCMP commander
A focus of Sgt. Sawrenko’s presentation to the community was the challenge of policing a large area with a small compliment of officers.
He noted in 2015 the Biggar detachment was short two officers, forcing them to call in the RCMP’s relief team to fill the gap.
“It was stressful,” he said, noting his men and women are responsible for over 4,700 square kilometres of land.
They didn’t return to full staffing – five officers and the detachment commander – until 2017.
When asked by residents why they don’t have a larger compliment of officers, both Sawrenko and Abbott said deployments by Saskatchewan RCMP were based on crime statistics and population.
“So we need to report more of our crimes, that’s on us,” said one man in the audience.
‘This isn’t about race’
In his interview with 650 CKOM, Danychuk said several of his neighbours were nervous about attending the town hall when they found out media would be there.
“People didn’t want to cause any more trouble for the town, anymore labelling,” he said.
“The flames have been fanned quite a bit and sure hasn’t been in our favour.”
He emphasized the community’s concern over crime has nothing to do with race, noting many of the criminals he’s witnessed have come from nearby cities.
“They’re definitely not from the reserve,” he said.
Albert Kammer agreed with Danychuk.
He said several of the thefts on his property were done by a “white guy” he knew in the community.
“He got mixed up in drugs,” Kammer said.
“The neighbour saw a strange truck backed up to my tractor and he pulled in and the guy takes off … he only got five gallons of gas.”
Sgt. Sawrenko discussed the problems drugs pose in the community, acknowledging there’s a hard substance abuse issue in the area.
He noted the property crime in the area is partially fueled by addicts looking for something quick to sell.
Kammer told 650 CKOM items like copper wire, fuel and radiators are often taken because they can be turned around quickly.
RCMP highlights methods to prevent thefts
Sgt. Sawrenko extensively discussed different ways residents could deter thieves on rural properties during the town hall.
He suggested purchasing home security signs, even if they don’t subscribe to a service, or to buy a “beat up doghouse” and a “Beware of Dog” placard.
“You could even buy a bit of chain and run it out about 20 feet with a busted collar at the end,” he joked.
Sawrenko commended the use of motion-detection lighting systems, and a Facebook group to notify neighbours of suspicious activity.
He also urged the public to lock their vehicles and not leave the keys inside, saying would-be thieves would move on.
One man raised a concern that would just push the problem down to a neighbour’s yard instead.
“If enough people do it, then it won’t be an issue,” Sawrenko said.
The RCMP is planning town halls across their 87 central district detachments over the next few months.