Getting a grip on growing Skaha Bluffs theft problem

Climber’s Access Society is now working towards a long-term solution for the rising theft problem in the parking lot of the Skaha Bluffs.

Rolf Rybak

Rolf Rybak

The local Climber’s Access Society is now working towards a long-term solution for the rising theft problem in the parking lot of the Skaha Bluffs.

Rolf Rybak, vice president and regional director of the Climber’s Access Society of B.C., met with representatives from the city, Parks BC, the RCMP and Penticton’s MLA to discuss the problem that’s turning visitors away from one of the premier sport climbing destinations in Canada.

Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit, City of Penticton’s Chief Administrative Officer Eric Sorenson, Penticton RCMP Cpl. Don Wrigglesworth and Supt. Kevin Hewco, Penticton MLA Dan Ashton, Chris Bower from Tourism Penticton and Sara Bunge with BC Parks met on Aug. 18 and were able to come up with a solution that could be implemented as soon as next spring.

“It went really well. I think everybody was looking for a solution. No one was finger pointing,” Rybak said.

With the last economic input study estimating a $4-million impact into the local economy, the issue reaches beyond the climbing community.

“I think everyone realizes they don’t want to lose that money, so everyone is trying to find a solution,” Rybak said.

That solution was suggested by Bunge, taking the lead from a program called ParkWatch in Sooke, B.C.

Paid patrollers would monitor the park over an established time frame. The program would be funded through various stakeholders and advertising brochures, with one third of the budget coming from a donation box in the parking lot.

The program has worked out quite well in Sooke, reducing crime in the nine areas that they monitor.

“When they did this, the crime rate went down almost 100 per cent. They haven’t had one break-in in the years since they started this and they monitored nine parks in Sooke,” Rybak said.

As an interim solution, cameras will be placed with signage by BC Parks stating “high theft area under video surveillance.”

Rybak said eyes on the ground are better than any camera.

As well, the RCMP is going to step up patrols around the parking lot in cooperation with Citizens on Patrol, who have been given an RCMP van and the reported times most break-ins occur. BC Parks workers will also be closing the upper portion of the parking lot during low traffic periods.

Rybak said he would approach the Climber’s Access Society of BC (CASBC) to see if they can run the watch under the umbrella of their non-profit society, allowing them to pay an employee, likely a senior, roughly $12 an hour and have that person attend during high-traffic periods from April to September.

“We need someone who’s gregarious and outgoing. They need to have some knowledge of the area, hopefully some climbing knowledge. They’re also ambassadors to Penticton,” Rybak said.

The program could not only help stem the tide of thefts at the Bluffs, Rybak said, but also extend into Penticton where there has been a rash of smash-and-grab thefts throughout the summer.

“If we can train this ParkWatch and extend it into other areas in Penticton, it’s going to be a much more secure community, I think everyone understands that,” Rybak said.

There are many steps to be taken before patrols start, Rybak estimates if all the chips fall in place, there could be a ParkWatch patroller at the start of the next climbing season in April 2016.

“Now it’s a matter of getting all the people who are stakeholders to actually come up and put money on the table, that’ll be the challenge, but I think everyone understands how important this issue is,” Rybak said. “What we would have to do is put the budget together, get the funding together and canvass for the businesses to contribute.”

In the interim, community policing coordinator for the RCMP, Rick Dellebuur, said the onus is on climbers to secure their belongings. The RCMP had Lock Out Auto Crime volunteers at the parking lot two weeks ago providing information and reminding drivers to secure their vehicles.

“Out of the vehicles that they checked, 40 vehicles, 25 of them had valuables in plain view and the windows cracked down,” RCMP community policing coordinator Rick Dellabuer said. “When you go out climbing for awhile, it’s one of these things you take precautions.”