THIS AND THAT: Shame on you shoplifters and thieves

Internet has taken shaming to a whole new level, but video doesn't always help Mounties get their man

Save your mother’s finger-wagging for someone else, the Internet has become the new way to voice dis approvement in other’s behaviour.

There is the crappy parkers of Kelowna Facebook page and more recently a social media campaign of disgruntled airline travellers calling out their fellow passengers for hogging space, clipping their toe nails and an array of other annoying things. Users have found this a place for catharsis; but a group of Penticton business owners and residents use a Facebook group, Penticton Shoplifters and Thieves – Exposed!, as a way to fight frustration.

The content is intriguing. From stolen bikes and squatters in hotel rooms, to Last Call Liquor Mart’s vodka cam; the civilian watchdogs post pictures and video exposing people who they believe have stolen from their establishments.

Local business owner Leigh Follestaad exposed two thieves this summer via posting the video of them shoplifting to the Facebook group. They were identified by Facebook users, and in turn Follestaad was lenient with the teens. They came forward to repay the expense of breaking his glass door to steal energy drinks and chocolate bars by working for him.

Still, that hasn’t stopped a new crop of thieves from moving in on his store. Follestaad is now offering a $500 reward to anyone who helps get his current suspected shoplifter arrested and to get the person buying the stolen food charged, which he considers just as frustrating. Recently he brought in a case of frozen steaks by request of his customers. Follestaad said he sold one and the other 11 were stolen.

He has even gone so far as offering passwords to community members to help be part of the solution. They can access his store security cameras to watch for shoplifters from the comfort of their home or via their cell phones and alert him of anything suspicious.

Penticton RCMP Sgt. Rick Dellebuur said shoplifting and petty crime is a problem in the city. He said if he has six files on his desk, most likely four of them are just that.

“Certainly it is a problem. These people are doing this to feed their drug habits and I think we see shoplifting and petty theft more often than break and enters now because it is easier,” he said.

Knowing someone who works at a Penticton retail store, I have heard the stories of thieves shoving their jackets and pants full of high-priced meat, or filling up a cart and running like hell out the doors. Employees can do nothing more than watch. The thieves have even been so brazen to taunt them about their no-chase policy.

And these aren’t the type of people who have resorted to stealing to fill their bellies. Dellebuur confirmed there are thieves who sell their goods, including packs of steaks, on the street with the intent to get money to buy drugs.

RCMP are handcuffed in balancing people’s rights — whether that is privacy or protecting their property. They cannot hand out to media the videos or pictures people provide them, they can only use them as a lead for their investigation. Dellebuur said Penticton RCMP are working on solutions. One of them is developing a combined drug task force and property crime reduction unit, that is, once they have the proper resources available. He hopes that will be running here in October.

Recent arrests including one man from Quebec, and another in the South Okanagan who is alleged to taken part in at least 21 property crimes, help chip away at problem. But how much is still unknown.

“We hope it will make a dent, but there is typically a few people working together, so unless we get them all it might not make much of one,” said Dellebuur. “It only takes a couple of people to wreak havoc on the property crime rate.”

One of the obstacles is lengthy delays in court. A person charged for shoplifting may wait six months or more to get to sentencing. There is also the small ramifications they face from judges.

“The reward for these people quite often is greater than the consequences,” said Dellebuur.

He is right. If they get a slap on the wrist from the judge they will be right back out doing it again to feed their drug habit. But it is not only the courts or a RCMP problem. Jails can’t be filled with shoplifters when there are more serious criminals. Earlier this week B.C. mayors called for the province to address crucial mental health and addiction issues at the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities.

There needs to be a stronger framework so RCMP, corrections, health care and social services can work together to help business owners like Follestaad keep his doors open and so the person who uses a bike to get stronger after cancer treatments doesn’t have to worry about it being stolen again.

Kristi Patton is editor of the Western News