One vehicle rolls in after another, into the paved parking lot at the Othello Tunnels. Each one is filled with a different sort of visitor. There are families hoping to stretch their legs, couples hoping for some adventure, and tourists discovering local history.
There are motorcycles and motorhomes, tour buses and station wagons. There are dogs and kids and bicycles, too.
As varied as the visitors are, each and every person who arrives at the tunnels is clearly looking for the same thing — a good experience exploring the tunnels just down the pathway.
And so it’s with great pleasure that they all seem to notice the one couple that doesn’t leave the parking lot. They sometimes sit off to the side, enjoying the cool shade by their truck. Other times, they stand at the exit, waving goodbye as their visitors head for their next destination.
They are Glenn and Heather Sullivan, and they are part of a larger team of volunteers who spend their spare time watching the parking lot at Othello. This dedicated group of people is organized through the Hope Crime Prevention Office, and their presence at this parking lot has had an impact, they say.
“This was a hot spot once,” Glenn says. But with the addition of regular patrols, the number of vehicle thefts have gone done significantly, allowing visitors to enjoy their day trip that much more.
Mike Weightman, ICBC’s regional coordinator for road safety, said the program has had “a profound impact on reducing crime.”
“When we first started with the Hope Crime Prevention Office in 2002 or 2003, the break ins (at Othello) were out of this world,” he said. “It seemed like it was under surveillance and the minute someone left their vehicle, it would get hit.”
There were as many as six vehicle break-ins or thefts each day at that time.
But last year, the RCMP had three reported cases all summer.
“We’re very proud of that,” said Geoff Hodgkinson, coordinator of the Othello Tunnel volunteers. There are about a dozen who patrol the area, taking turns at times that they chose.
It’s never the same time, so there is no pattern that thieves could learn.
“We just go our own times, and the bad guys don’t know when we’re there,” he said. And to keep the volunteers safe, and be even more effective, they are armed with police radios and constant RCMP backup.
“We are the eyes and the ears for the police out there,” Hodgkinson said.
The patrol is funded by ICBC, through equipment that volunteers can use.
ICBC has also erected signs in the area reminding people to lock up their valuables.
There are people visiting from all over the world, Weightman said, and for a long time those world-traveled guests were getting a very bad impression of Hope, B.C. and Canada.
Thanks to the volunteers with Hope Crime Prevention, that first impression has gotten a lot better.
“It’s amazing,” Weightman said. “It’s really worked well.”
Besides being a watchful eye on the parking lot, the Sullivans and the rest of the volunteers keep track of the numbers of visitors, and place little reminders on the windshield of vehicles that resemble parking tickets.
Hope Crime Prevention could always use more volunteers for the many activities they help with, from the Othello Tunnels watch, to Brigade Days and even the Harrison Dragonboat Festival.
For more information, phone 604-869-5900.