The tightly-knit community of Ryder Lake got even tighter Thursday night with residents agreeing to form neighbourhood watch groups to protect each other from the criminals targeting the remote rural area east of Chilliwack.
But three suspects in a rash of break-ins around Ryder Lake had already been arrested before the meeting took place, partly as a result of the complaints residents made to police.
Their reports about break-ins made the area a “hot spot” under the RCMP’s new crime reduction strategy, which ultimately drew the attention of a special RCMP investigations unit to a rental property that had become a “rats’ nest” of criminal activity.
“You guys calling us led us back to the property,” RCMP Cpl. Kurtis Bosnell told about 60 residents who attended the meeting at the Ryder Lake Community Hall.
“Your complaints gave us a lawful reason to go on the property,” he said, to execute a search warrant that uncovered a marijuana grow-op and a treasure trove of stolen items.
Two of the suspects, Mark Perkins and Kimberley Gribbon, both 38, had both been released earlier by the courts, but had fallen back into the criminal lifestyle. A third suspect, Rodney Unger, 51, was arrested separately on drug- and firearm-related charges.
Bosnell, leader of the crime reduction unit in Ryder Lake, said a Chilliwack city bylaw prevents grow-op properties from being occupied again for a certain period of time, and imposes fines on “uncooperative” landlords who don’t regularly inspect and report criminal activity at their rental premises.
But many residents at the meeting were clearly frustrated by the legal protection afforded those who burglarize their homes, and by their treatment by the courts once found guilty.
It’s a view shared by the RCMP.
“I totally agree with you, I know what you’re saying,” Bosnell told the residents at one point.
But police hands are tied by the very laws they are paid to enforce.
Bosnell said he personally believed many medical marijuana grow-ops approved by Health Canada are “dirty” or illegal.
But judges won’t grant police the warrants needed to search licensed grow-ops without evidence, he said, yet police can’t get the evidence to prove illegality without doing a search.
Medical grow-ops are required to be inspected by Health Canada, but Bosnell said he’d never seen a Health Canada inspector in all his experience as a police officer.
“I think Health Canada is afraid to tackle the problem,” he said.
Asked by one resident how the community can be “positively vigilant” in the future to thwart another criminal invasion, Bosnell replied: “You have to look after yourself.”
And by that he meant expanding the neighborhood watch network already existing in Ryder Lake.
Peter Whitlock, president of the Ryder Lake Farmers’ Institute that organized the meeting, said residents will meet in the next two weeks for more details on forming Grow Watch groups that specifically target marijuana growers.
He said the purpose of the Thursday meeting with police was to “bring down the concerns a bit” of residents following a recent rash of break-ins.
“I think people were happy with the process,” he said, after the meeting. “They wanted to know what was going on, and they got that from the RCMP.”