An Oliver resident wants to step up security enforcement against crime in his community.
Michael Guthrie retired to the South Okanagan from the Lower Mainland two years ago and has become increasingly frustrated at what he feels is a growing crime wave plaguing Oliver.
Guthrie has become an advocate for the need to increase the police presence and to install security cameras to beef up enforcement.
He has organized a public forum for Aug 28, 6:30 p.m., to discuss crime in Oliver.
Guthrie said a similar event was held June 19 in Oliver and generated little public participation beyond civic and RCMP officials.
“I want to have a meeting where the public is made well aware of it and is invited to offer input on what we can do,” Guthrie said.
He has two objectives from his upcoming forum — to start getting signatures for two petitions, one to see the two extra RCMP officers promised to the community when the Okanagan Correctional Centre was opened two years ago and another to install a greater security camera presence.
Guthrie, who has installed a home security system for his own home, estimates it would cost about $100,000 to set up 20 to 25 cameras to provide adequate coverage.
“I have been hit by burglaries twice since I moved here and one of my cameras caught someone trying to break into the hair salon two nights ago across from my house. It was 2:08 a.m.,” he said.
Guthrie said local MLA Linda Larson has committed to carrying the petition forward regarding the extra police officers.
“We are not doing this to bring criticism against the RCMP. They are doing their best with the resources they have. But we were promised extra officers and that promise hasn’t been kept,” he said.
He is calling for the municipality to be more forceful on this issue, saying while crime is on the rise there is a hesitancy to talk about it openly.
“It reminds me of the original Jaws movie, where the shark starts showing up on the beach but the mayor wants to keep it quiet because it’s the tourist season,” he said.
“The municipality is not doing enough, or trying to do enough, to deal with our crime problem.”
Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes said he has spoken with Guthrie and hears his frustration.
“He spoke passionately (at the June 29 meeting) and he wants to see things happen yesterday,” Hovanes said.
The mayor said his community has made a business case with provincial government safety officials and the RCMP B.C./Yukon deputy commissioner’s office for the two additional officers.
“We have spoken to everyone we can talk to at the last three Union of B.C. Municipalities conventions and will do so again at the next convention in September, but ultimately there is a shortage of RCMP staffing needs across the province,” he said.
“I was told just to meet the business case made for additional officers in Surrey would eat up all the requests from other municipalities across the province. The problem is the RCMP training depot in Regina can’t turn out enough graduates to meet the staffing demands.”
But beyond additional police enforcement, Hovanes said local residents have to accept more responsibility for securing their own property and vehicles, and accept that as being the new reality.
“We are often talking here about the crime of opportunity. People may not be breaking into cars so much as checking to see if a door is unlocked, than rifling through it for change or whatever else they can find. That happened to me recently and I thought, ‘Oh God, I should have checked to make sure the doors were locked the night before,’” he said.
“We have to be diligent and not let our guard down. These crime waves tend to be cyclical but just because things quiet down for a couple of months, we can’t forget about the need to be diligent.”
Hovanes remembers growing up on a farm in rural Oliver, where leaving farm equipment in the field with the ignition keys was commonplace.
“We shut down for the day and the next day all the equipment and the keys were still there. It’s not like that today. Our wineries and farms can be an easy target today because of their open fields and open yards.”
Hovanes said the forum is Guthrie’s undertaking, but he plans to attend and answer any questions on issues that might arise at the meeting.
“We didn’t get the public turnout we had hoped to see on June 19 but a lot of issues were raised and discussions generated about how to address those concerns moving forward,” he said.
South Okanagan RCMP Supt. Ted DeJager said frustration with lack of response to calls from the public is something he sees often on social media, and leaves him frustrated.
“That is a common sentiment but the reality is if a call is made and a file number is generated, there will be a response,” said De Jager. “It may not be an emergency vehicle rolling up to your house but you should get at least a phone call back. If that is not happening, I want to hear about it because our service standard is to respond to everyone making a complaint one way or the other.
“If you don’t contact us, I can guarantee there will be no response. Sometimes our officers are out on patrol and see suspicious activity occurring, but that is rare. The chances of the 60,000 pairs of eyes out there seeing something is far more likely to happen.”
While acknowledging the need for more officers, De Jager said the public has a role to crime proof their own property and vehicles by locking doors, removing valuables from vehicles and not leaving the home unattended with windows open.
“People need to look out for each other and if they see something that looks untoward happening to not hesitate to call it in.”
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