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The Alberta government and RCMP say rural property crime fell by 11 per cent in the first half of this year thanks to a new policing strategy that targets the most prolific offenders.

In March, the province announced $10-million in funding to hire more RCMP officers in rural areas, civilian support staff and Crown prosecutors.

“Six months later, the numbers are in and the evidence is very encouraging,” Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said Tuesday.

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“RCMP have recorded a noticeable decrease in property crime. The rural crime plan is working.”

The property crime statistics do not include fraud, mischief and arson.

Between July 2017 and July 2018, there was a 25 per cent drop in rural property offences.

There were 2,358 fewer thefts in Alberta year-over-year. Since February, when district-level crime reduction units were set up, police have made more than 500 arrests representing more than 1,600 charges.

Supt. Peter Tewfik, who is in charge of the Alberta RCMP’s crime reduction strategies, said that means police are nabbing the right suspects.

“Our crime reduction units specialize in targeting the criminals who hurt our communities the most,” he said.

“These are individuals who present a constant threat to the safety of Albertans. Our crime reduction units are committed to identifying and apprehending these targets.”

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The RCMP is working with analysts to pinpoint crime hotspots so the Mounties know where their resources are best used. Tewfik said they are also benefiting from technology such as automated licence– plate readers.

Property owners, who have expressed frustration at how long it takes RCMP to respond to calls in rural areas, have sparked a debate over whether they should have the right to take matters into their own hands.

The issue came to the fore earlier this year when Edouard Maurice was accused of firing at suspected thieves on his rural property south of Calgary. Dozens of supporters applauded in court in June, when the Crown withdrew charges that included aggravated assault and alleged firearms offences.

Tewfik said he’s been at town-hall meetings where rural residents have complained about being targeted repeatedly by criminals.

He said he understands the frustration, but property owners shouldn’t try to take on a criminal themselves and should instead report all crimes.

“Even though people feel like there might not be a point in reporting crime, they have to understand that if we don’t have an understanding of where the crime’s taking place, our intelligence can’t work to proactively direct patrols in areas that we’re having problems.”

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