Justice Minister Gordon Wyant has announced the creation of a new team to fight rural crime.
Known as the Protection and Response Team, the body will bring together 258 armed officers from the RCMP, municipal police forces, highway enforcement and conservation. The plan foresees the creation of 30 new police positions, with the rest repurposed from other areas.
“The PRT will help us to ensure the continued safety of the province’s people and communities,” Wyant said during a press conference Tuesday.
The announcement comes after a committee led by MLA Herb Cox made recommendations on how to tackle rural crime, after consulting with communities across the province.
Wyant said the plan seeks to improve response times for rural residents and increase the visibility of officers in rural areas. All of the officers, regardless of their official role, will have arrest and detention powers. They will receive “comprehensive training” to provide them the tools they need to respond to ongoing crimes.
The plan will cost $5.9 million, with $4.9 million coming from SGI and $1 million from the Ministry of Justice.
Wyant said the task force will also tackle drug trafficking and improve road safety on rural highways. But enforcement is only part of the plan. Wyant said he also wants to help rural residents look after themselves by reinvigorating crime watches and helping people crime-proof their properties.
He said the plan involved consultation with police chiefs and the province’s umbrella First Nations group, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations. He said the ministry is working with the FSIN to develop a gang strategy, hopefully with funding from the federal government.
“We see them as a very, very important partner in dealing with some of the issues in this province from a crime perspective,” he said of the FSIN. “Part of this whole approach will be to continue to build those relationships.”
However, no representatives of the FSIN were present at the announcement. “Certainly they were invited, and we very much would have appreciated their attendance,” Wyant said. The Herald has reached out to seek comment from FSIN leaders about the announcement.
Don Fyrk, the reeve of the Rural Municipality of Buckland, said the announcement sounds like a “great thing” for rural communities.
“It’s been getting out of control, the crime, and for the government to step up and do something, that’s great,” he told the Daily Herald. “I have a very good feeling about it.”
He said his RM, located just north of Prince Albert, has seen a spike in property crimes in recent years, especially theft.
“The way the crime rates have been going in the RM, not just my RM but all the RMs, it’s crazy,” he said.
Fyrk agreed with Cox and Wyant that increasing officer visibility is the key to reducing rural crime.
“If they’re driving around and watching, that’s a great deterrent,” he explained. “When you don’t have anyone driving around in a marked cruiser, it’s almost like a free for all.”
For Fyrk, building a sense of security in rural areas is the best way to prevent another tragedy – like the death of Colten Boushie.
“This is a step that has to be taken, because we don’t want a repeat of what went on in Biggar,” he said. “We don’t want to get anyone into that position.”