by Stephen Dafoe
A bright yellow sign sits affixed to a fence at the end of a township road. Its message is straightforward and to the point: Rural Crime Watch Area. They are four words that let residents known their neighbours are watching out for them, and criminals know their activity is being monitored.
Sturgeon Rural Crime Watch (SRCW) is a 785 member strong, all-volunteer, community-based organization. They work in partnership with the Morinville RCMP with a simple goal, increasing and strengthening “crime prevention activities in Sturgeon County and its municipalities through broad citizen participation.”
SRCW President Francoise Meunier said the organization began in 1983 and has continued its mission of being an extra set of eyes and ears for an often overworked and overstretched RCMP Detachment for the past 32 years.
“It was started in December of 1983 by a group of farmers that noticed there was an increase in crime. And so this is why they wanted to band together and see what they could do to get together and work with the RCMP,” she said. “I think this is how it became the eyes and ears of the community because the whole point was they wanted everyone to keep an eye on what was going on.”
But Meunier is quick to point out the organization’s mission statement goes beyond the mandate of watching out for criminal activity – it extends to raising awareness of crime and SRCW’s role in preventing it, as well as educating citizens.
“This is why we go to trade shows and meet and greets in all of the little towns around to promote as much as we can.”
Large area of coverage
SRCW covers 2300 square kilometres and a population base of 19,578, not including Bon Accord, Gibbons, Legal, and Morinville, all of whom form zones within SRCW.
“Sturgeon County is divided into zones, and each area and town has their own zones,” Meunier said, adding ideally each zone has a Zone Director and an Associate Zone Director. “Each one takes care of their members, promoting, getting new members and going to meet and greets.”
With a large area to watch and a greater need to do the watching, the organization is hoping to attract more members to join SRCW.
“Crime is on the rise, and if we don’t take the chance of watching out for each other, it’s not going to be safe for anyone,” Meunier said. “It’s something that everyone from seniors on down to kids can be very aware. Aware of different vehicles in the area. Aware of different people. It’s just a matter of safety. We have to be careful to be aware of what is going on in our neighbourhoods, particularly in the country. We can be pretty isolated.”
Although 785 members may seem like a lot, Meunier said when one factors in the population of Sturgeon County and the member municipalities within it, the organization really could use more members.
Members of the organization receive regular email fanouts that identify crimes and other suspicious activities. It is something the organization sees as valuable information for a lifetime membership fee that is only $25.
“Our communication director sends them out, and they come from the RCMP,” Meunier said of the email fanouts. “There are a lot of break and enters in the country, in the Sturgeon area. If we can have as many members [as possible] be aware of what it is that’s going on.”
Meunier and her fellow SRCW volunteers have been working hard to build the crime watch organization’s membership base. The experience has shown that once people start reading the email fanouts and see what is happening they are eager to keep an eye out and report what is happening.
Although the organization has a monthly meeting at the Provincial Building in Morinville on the second Tuesday of each month, members are encouraged but not obligated to attend. They are strongly encouraged, however, to record and report suspicious activity to help fulfil the organization’s mission statement: “To aid our local RCMP and other local law enforcement agencies in the prevention of criminal activities in the County of Sturgeon, its town and villages and to educate, inform and assist in crime prevention and awareness.”
Observing, documenting and reporting are the three activities that have made SRCW a regional success for more than three decades. They are activities she recommends for those living in municipalities like Morinville, which is SRCW Zone 16.
“People think because you are in town you don’t have to worry about that sort of thing, but I think maybe they should be thinking about keeping an eye out,” she said. “I think they can be doing the same thing as we do in the country. If something looks a little fishy, it might be. We’ve got to think about the other guy.”
Meunier said she is grateful for the hard work and efforts of the many volunteers who keep the organization running and growing. Though the membership numbers are increasing, they are looking for more general members as well as a few zone directors.
A lifetime membership in the Sturgeon Rural Crime Watch is $25. Membership forms are available from the organization’s website at www.sturgeonruralcrimewatch.org.
– Submitted Photo