Banding together to stop rural crime

New Agri-Watch program in Chilliwack has farmers helping farmers

Const. Jamie Rae

Const. Jamie Rae

Think of property crime in Chilliwack, and the area around Five Corners might spring to mind.

But while the downtown is perceived as an epicentre of criminal behaviour, the truth is it’s everywhere.

Even in peaceful rural settings, known for grazing cows and corn stalks waving in the breeze, bad things happen.

“Dairy farms have a lot of high-dollar items, a lot of steel and a lot of wire,” said Devan Toop. “We have thieves come in to take tools or strip out our wiring and plumbing. A lot of people come to this community with the expectation that you can keep your door unlocked and trust your neighbour. And that’s why a lot of bad people come to the country as well, because they feel people are a bit lax in protecting their property.”

A new program coordinated by Toop and a diversified advisory committee looks to address rural crime in a proactive way.

Operating in Greendale since April, and looking to expand elsewhere, Agri-Watch is uniting a wide range of farmers (dairy, poultry, hay, nursery) in a common cause.

Modelled after the Block Watch program, property owners purchase reflective signs to post on their property.

A small sign costs $28. A large sign costs $70.

Statistics say the presence of signs alone can cause crime to drop by approximately 80 per cent. Agri-Watch participants also get access to a closed Facebook page where they can report break-ins and suspicious activity.

“It’s a community-driven program where we band together to help ourselves and help the police,” said Toop, who’s had everything from motorcycles to pressure-washers stolen from his properties. “Many times a farmer gets something stolen, he checks his insurance deductible and says, ‘Well, maybe it’s worth it and maybe it’s not.’ When they don’t report a crime, it skews the statistics and lowers the police presence in an area where it may be needed. Maybe the biggest thing this program does it make it easier for farmers to report problems.”

“Most of what was going on in Greendale wasn’t being reported,” added Cst. Jamie Rae, the RCMP liaison for the Agri-Watch program. “People told me they didn’t have time, which is understandable, or they didn’t want to bother us with something so small. Or they didn’t think anything could be done. Part of the program is educating people about when and why to call police.”

Rae says Chilliwack is unique in its layout.

Rarely does he see urban residential as close to farmland as it is here, allowing crime to spill out of the city.

“For example, in rural Alberta where I’m from, you’ll never see somebody riding through farmland on a bicycle,” he explained. “Whereas here, some of the same people who are riding around downtown Chilliwack stealing from vehicles in the middle of the night are doing the same things in the rural areas. Because they can.”

Rae credits Toop and his fellow farmers for taking initiative and believes the community-driven model should ensure the program endures, even as RCMP liaisons change.

“We are invested in the community and we aren’t going anywhere, so you can always count on us to be vigilant,” said Toop, whose family has been farming in Chilliwack for generations upon generations. “The program has only been running about six months, and I think we’ll need a year to properly gauge our success. But personally, it’s already increased my comfort level because I’m communicating more with the farmers around me.”

Rae and Toop hope to take the program to Yarrow next, with cooperation from Abbotsford Community Policing.

Rosedale, East Chilliwack, Ryder Lake and the Columbia Valley are also on the radar.

“Once we get the ball rolling we’ll be able to compare startup stats to where we are in a year,” Rae said. “We’re looking to find someone in Yarrow who wants to spearhead it the way Devan has here. Once we get the program up and running in all of those areas, we’ll really be able to track the stats to see how successful it is.”

For more info, contact Rae at the Community Policing Office at 604-393-3000.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia’s (CFSEU-BC) Uniform Gang Enforcement Team (UGET) has arrested a man who was on the run for nearly a decade. (File photo)
9-year search for international drug trafficking suspect ends with arrest at YVR

Khamla Wong, charged in 2012, taken into custody Feb. 24 by BC-CFSEU

The Great Bear Snowshed on the Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) in British Columbia. Truck driver Roy McCormack testified in BC Supreme Court in Chilliwack on Feb. 25, 2021 that his brakes started smoking in about this location, and soon after he lost all braking, which led to a multi-vehicle crash further down the road on Aug. 5, 2016. (GoogleMaps)
Truck driver charged with criminal negligence in Coquihalla crash is accused of ignoring smoking brakes

Just before crashing the smoking truck was seen entering Zopkios brake check and leaving shortly after

Shaelene Keeler Bell. (Facebook)
Candlelight vigil Saturday for missing Chilliwack mother

Virtual event to ‘spread some light’ for 23-year-old Shaelene Bell of Chilliwack

Becky Miller, and her daughters Aurora, 5, and Alice, 2, getting the truck ready to help the St. Paul’s Dump Runners fundraiser Feb. 27, 28, March 1 and 2. (Becky Miller)
St. Paul’s Dump Runners of Chilliwack ready to pick up odds and ends for a cause

For a donation to the Nicaragua Feed the Children Fund volunteers haul stuff to the dump

(File Photo)
Crash causes delays on Coquihalla southbound, travel advisory issued

A vehicle incident between Merrit and Hope has caused major delays heading south

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: Island teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen, all 20, drown in the Sooke River in February 2020. (Contributed photos)
Coroner confirms ‘puddle jumping’ in 2020 drowning deaths of 3 B.C. men

Cory Mills, Eric Blackmore and A.J. Jensen pulled into raging river driving through nearby flooding

Head of internal medicine at Chilliwack General Hospital Dr. Shari Sajjadi talks about the positive feedback hospital staff have received over this last year in the latest YouTube video about COVID-19 created in partnership with the Chilliwack Division of Family Practice and the Chilliwack Economic Recovery Network. (YouTube)
VIDEO: Dr. Shari Sajjadi says a simple ‘thank you’ helps keep up spirits of healthcare workers

‘We are so thankful for the positive feedback we are getting from our patients’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Castlegar doctor Megan Taylor contracted COVID-19 in November. This photo was taken before the pandemic. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay doctor shares experience contracting COVID-19

Castlegar doctor shares her COVID experience

Ashley Paxman, 29, is in the ICU after being struck by a vehicle along Highway 97 Feb. 18, 2021. She remains in critical condition. (GoFundMe)
Okanagan woman in ICU with broken bones in face after being struck by car

She remains in serious condition following Feb. 18 incident

Most Read