Reports of smashed car windows, missing vehicles and stolen items have permeated online groups over the past few months, and local RCMP are encouraging residents to take steps to protect themselves and their property.
“You have to take part in your own crime prevention,” said Sgt. Darren Rennie. “There’s definitely a spike right now. And it’s not just one community, it’s basically the whole Valley.”
Rennie and the rest of the Agassiz RCMP have been working to catch the people behind a slew of crime activity in the past months. He can’t point to any single cause, but said warmer weather often brings out fair-weather, opportunistic criminals.
“These are multi-jurisdictional offenders. So we’re a small community, but we’re not immune to them coming in and causing havoc,” he said. “Our crime stats during the winter were phenomenal. But right now, summer months…warm weather brings out criminals.”
Facebook posts and comments sharing stories of stolen or rummaged-through vehicles, property theft and suspicious behaviour might make it seem like crime is on the rise – and it is, but only seasonally. This year’s overall property crime stats are only three per cent higher than last year, a small jump from 253 to 261 files.
But since December, the Agassiz RCMP’s have dealt with a serious increase in property crime. Except for a spike in January, winter and spring saw lower crime rates – with 31 files in December and a huge jump to 81 files in June.
While actual vehicle theft has increased – a number of Ford pickups were stolen just in the last week – theft from vehicles has been the most significant crime jump. The six-month average is 12 calls – but Rennie said that number has more than doubled – it’s at 27. He points to a video recorded at an Agassiz home to emphasize just how important it is that residents lock up their property.
“That’s a lot of what we see, it’s unsecured vehicles being rummaged through,” he said. “Gone are the days of leaving your vehicle and your house unlocked.”
Rennie said it’s rare for criminals to smash a vehicle’s window unless they can see valuables or intend to steal the car.
“I want to stress the importance of locking up vehicles and removing valuables. A parked vehicle is not a good location to store a passport and/or wallet.”
Nor is it a good place to leave a garage door opener – something Surrey woman Paige Mennen learned the hard way.
Mennen and her fiance have a boat-access only cabin on Harrison Lake. In mid-June they went out to the cabin for a weekend and came back to find that their truck, while parked at the boat launch, had been broken into. Insurance papers, sunglasses, a debit card and other items were missing, most noticeably – the garage door opener to their Surrey home. When the couple finally got back to Surrey they found that, not only had their home been broken into, the thieves had spent the weekend there.
Mennen said that, like all Harrison visitors, she had purchased a parking pass over the weekend. She thinks that’s what gave the criminals a timeline for their stay.
“They had all weekend in my house, they knew exactly when I was going home,” she said, horrified by the violation.
The thieves had stolen jewelry, watches, credit cards, clothes, electronics and a safe filled with important documents and valuables.
“I cried a lot…because, who does this? It’s not okay. This is my stuff, I work for this.”
— Richmond RCMP (@RichmondRCMP) June 5, 2018
Catching the bad guys
In January alone there were 28 complaints of theft from vehicles, and evidence from those crimes helped the police charge some of the people involved – which Rennie speculates could be the reason behind the significant decrease in the following months.
And the small police force hasn’t been idle in the wake of the recent crime burst. A man was arrested in early July shortly after a break and enter in Popkum, and police have been using DNA and fingerprints to identify suspects from a number of property crimes in the area.
According to Rennie, Agassiz RCMP have submitted a number of disclosure packages to Crown Counsel recommending charges on a crime group operating in the Agassiz-Harrison area.
“Once charges are approved, the officers will locate and arrest those individuals and bring them before a judge.”
RCMP also keep tabs on the offenders they’ve identified. Court orders for previous offenses allow police to check up on them, but it isn’t always enough to prevent future crime. Police simply can’t be everywhere at once.
“We try to stay on the road as much as possible, especially during night time hours,” said Rennie. But he says ultimately, residents themselves can, and should, play a big part in crime prevention.
A short-term solution
“What’s important is people recognize that sending someone to court on charges, especially for property crime, isn’t the answer,” said Rennie. “It’s just a short-term solution because the Canadian justice system is a catch and release system, and quite frankly, the courts don’t put a lot of weight into property crime.”
Rennie’s seen it before. A criminal is convicted for a break and enter and the community settles down for a few months while they’re in custody. Then the individual is released and often becomes active in criminal activity again.
“Our judicial system is based on catch and release, and crime stats show that while property crime offenders are in-custody the property crimes rates drop,” he said. “Residents need to be aware that in most cases the convicted criminal will be released and will start offending again.”
That’s why the sergeant is emphasizing the need for residents to educate themselves on crime prevention strategies.
Some of his recommendations include:
- Ensure the exterior of the residence is well lit, motion lights work well
- Place interior lights on a timer to make it appear you are home
- Install a home security system
- Keep valuables out of sight and locked up
- Know your neighbours! Keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour in your neighbourhood
Rennie noted that alerting local police to any incidents that occur – at any time – will help the police
“There has been a lot of chatter on Internet sites about whether or not Agassiz Detachment closes at a certain time of night. I can confirm we provide policing 24 hours a day. If you see someone suspicious in your area I urge you to call the police no matter the time of day or night.”
He adds that the busy season means they may have to wait – RCMP will deal with any in-progress calls first – but support staff is on from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. and can let them know the status of their call.
“I don’t want anybody to take matters into their own hands, but if you see somebody suspicious, I want you to call us.”