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St. Albert crime stats reveal sharp rise in extortion, harassment

Numbers show a jump in assaults in the first quarter of this year, steep drops in motor vehicle collision injuries

Crime statistics from St. Albert RCMP show a sharp increase in reports of harassment and extortion over the past five years and continuing into the first quarter of 2024.

Reported incidents of extortion rose 467 per cent to 34 cases in 2023 from six cases in 2019. Harassment incidents doubled in the same time to 172 cases from 86 cases. Eight cases of extortion have been reported to RCMP in the first quarter of 2024, while RCMP have dealt with 49 cases of harassment so far this year.

The rise is due to more reports of cyberbullying and harassment through social media platforms, as well as an increase in bad actors encouraging victims, often minors, to share nude photos that are later used as blackmail, according to Sgt. Michael Beaudet with the St. Albert RCMP.

“In terms of enforcement, sometimes it is difficult, because there is an online component, and quite often the suspects are unknown, or they're overseas or they're out of the country,” Beaudet said.

The first quarter of this year also saw more incidents of assault, jumping to 106 cases from 88 in the beginning of 2023.

“There might be a domestic violence component to that,” Beaudet said. “With a lot of our increased support systems and advertising and campaigns we've done, any time you increase the awareness of an issue, quite often there's a correlating increase in the reports that are made about it.”

In terms of property-related crimes, the number of thefts, break and enters and cases of fraud and mischief, declined in the first three months of 2024 in comparison to 2023.

Police conducted an operation earlier this year to identify idling and unlocked vehicles and warn owners about the risks of theft, which might have helped, Beaudet said.

The number of vehicle collision injuries has dropped sharply since 2019, when there were 282 recorded incidents of motor vehicle accident injuries, to 2023, when St. Albert saw only 103 such cases.

Beaudet attributed the decrease to less hazardous winter road conditions in the past few years.

“Hopefully people’s driving skills and awareness have gone up,” he said.

Reports of suspicious persons or vehicles nearly doubled between 2019-23, rising to 906 cases from 470 cases. There were 228 suspicious person, vehicle or property reports in the first quarter of 2024 compared to 178 reports last year.

“The vast majority of those are ones where citizens phone in people that they believe are suspicious, either in their neighbourhoods or in commercial areas or on the road,” Beaudet said. “Citizens are being are more aware and are looking out to be looking after their own properties and their neighbours’ properties.”

Police have also since 2019 filed a great deal more Form 10 reports. A Form 10 allows police to arrest someone who is suffering from a mental disorder and may be at risk of harming themselves or others and to take the individual to the hospital for a medical assessment.

Police made 24 Form 10 reports in 2019 and 97 such reports last year.

“A lot more people are looking out for loved ones and people they work with and looking for indicators of either mental crisis or mental awareness, and they're letting us know about that,” Beaudet said. “Not all those cases resulted in a mental health apprehension, and a lot of them would just be welfare checks.”

Instances of drug trafficking dropped to 29 in 2023 from 61 in 2019. The Gazette reached out for more information about the decrease but did not hear back from St. Albert RCMP’s drug enforcement unit before publication deadline.

A detailed breakdown of the St. Albert RCMP's crime statistics is available on the City of St. Albert's policing committee meeting agenda.

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