Reducing crime in Penticton could boil down to literally shining a light on it.
Penticton resident Jake Evans has twice scared off criminals while patrolling the streets with a group of fellow concerned citizens using nothing but a flashlight and a notepad.
“We’re not trying to be intimidating or violent or anything like that. We’re just watching. We know what you’re up to. The whole town knows what you’re up to, but now people are staying up. Be prepared to have a flashlight shone on you,” Evans said.
So far, Evans and the group have seen property crime taking place, including last week when they observed one man writing graffiti on walls with his own blood.
The patrols started off humbly when Evans would take an extra drive after coming home from work.
“If it was something extreme I would call the authorities and not really the most quick results if anything at all,” Evans said. “I totally respect the city, the RCMP and everything that’s on their plate, but it has just gone on so long now. It’s somehow still getting worse.”
Evans and a few fellow citizens who showed interest had an invite-only meeting and soon after they took to the streets.
“We started stepping up and started seeing even more than we thought. We already knew that stuff was out there, but the most alarming thing was absolutely zero police presence at night. Zero,” Evans said. “Sometimes we were not seeing one car.”
During a six hour shift on the evening March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, the group claimed they saw three patrol cars.
“With this current situation we’re in, on a high-profile day like that, with traditional partying and drinking, celebrating and what not. I’ll be honest it just made me more angry,” Evans said.
Evans made it clear he and the group, which ranges from six to 10 individuals, avoid confrontation. He keeps his distance and is not looking to start any physical altercations. Simply having eyes and ears on the street, and most importantly flashlights, can be effective in keeping criminals at bay without resorting to extreme measures Evans said.
“We’re thinking after a few weeks where this keeps happening, it’s going to be frustrating for them. Even if we could slow it down by 10 per cent. That’s going to save people a lot of heartache and cash,” Evans said.
Both of which he has seen first hand, whether its his back gate being opened, his car rifled through or a friend’s property being tresspassed on.
“None of it is really the material stuff, they’re emotionally messed up after that. They have been violated,” Evans said.
Plans are in the work for the patrollers to meet with Crimestoppers and have further meetings with the RCMP. There could be some resource sharing or crossover with Crimestoppers according to co-ordinator, and former RCMP officer in Penticton, Rick Dellebuur.
“The big thing is getting community involvment in any of these programs. It used to be we would run these types of programs and get the community involved. Whereas now they come up with these ideas and we work with them together and that works a lot better than either them running it or us running it,” Dellebuur said.
Currently lacking volunteers on the Crimestoppers board, Dellebuur said other numbers including Citizens on Patrol volunteers are doing well. He said the RCMP encourages the type of community engagement being enacted by residents.
There are things aside from patrolling that can curb crime and help police including marking property, calling in and reporting suspicious activity and simply getting to know your neighbours while keeping an eye out for eachother. Dellebuur has seen citizens get discouraged in the past by the bureaucracy of block watch programs, so he is not surprised to see citizens take it into their own hands.
“I don’t want to discourage people, but I also want to say maybe there’s something more relevant. That is banding together with your neighbours and look out for one another. You don’t necessarily need a big title or big things just to put in these practices,” Dellebuur said.
The only concern from Dellebuur is vigilante-type behaviour, which he has yet to hear about from this group of citizens.
“People get pretty emotional, understandably, if they’ve lost some property or have been victimized in any way,” Dellebuur said. “Most people aren’t that way, but it just takes one or two and then they’re in trouble.”
The local RCMP is also working on the 529 Garage project, which helps residents register their bikes to an online database is also in the works set to debut soon.
“It would make it a lot easier to get some of these people stealing bikes, riding around on a $4,000 bike we know doesn’t belong to them and we have trouble finding out who it belongs to,” Dellebuur said.
Calling on the courts
Fellow Penticton resident Mark Billesberger is looking to invoke change in another way, putting pressure on the courts to impose harsher sentences for repeat offenders.
He is planning to protest what he says are light sentences for repeat offenders in the area.
“There was one person who was let go again. He actually admitted to stealing a number of high-end bicycles. They kicked him loose because he said he was going to work with his uncle in Alberta,” Billesberger said. “I guess that absolves him of all his sins, they’re just going to kick him loose and let him go.”
Billesberger is referring to Jason Lance, who pleaded guilty to multiple property-related offences and was sentenced to time served, just over nine months in custody, earlier this week.
Billesberger and Evans are part of a social media group aimed at identifying offenders and reporting incidents. Billesberger has met with the local RCMP detachment to bring his concerns to them directly.
“Almost on a daily basis I see people saying somebody stole my bicycle out of my yard last night, or somebody stole my trailer,” Billesberger said. “Some people have been hit three or four times. So we’re getting kind of angry that the courts aren’t doing anything about it.”
“People are getting to the point that they’re so fed up they’re starting to talk about the next time they see someone in their yard they’re going to go beat the crap out of them. You can’t do that because you’re going to find yourself in trouble. So we’re trying to get the courts to take action so otherwise law-abiding citizens don’t find themselves in front of a judge for assault,” Billesberger said.
Billesberger noted people do have rights should they find a crime taking place on their property, but it’s important to know what your rights are in that situation, pointing to the rules and regulations for a citizen’s arrest in Canada and the rights surrounding self defence, adding they can be found online and should be viewed by anyone planning to take action.
He is organizing a protest prior to the opening of the Penticton Law Courts afternoon sessions on April 25 around 1:30 p.m.
“I’m hoping to see a change in our judicial system where people are constantly being let out with the minimum,” Billesberger said.