Join us at The Chilliwack Progress as we take our readers on a thoughtful trip down memory lane. Our Top Stories will recap the most significant news events, milestones and emerging themes that have shaped Chilliwack in 2016. It was undeniably a notable year, from an unprecedented spike in homelessness, to major development news, to the community revealing its keen interest in crime and politics, and a most caring heart.
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Anxiety over Chilliwack’s rising crime rate dominated public discussion through much of 2016.
The concern started early; the city’s 2016 budget was modified at the last minute to add additional police resources.
But that was just the start.
By year end, the city would fortify the local detachment with 10 new police officers.
The concern wasn’t just perception.
From March of 2015 to March of 2016 theft from vehicles climbed 57 per cent, auto theft jumped 38 per cent, property crime increased 33 per cent, while weapons offences soared 114 per cent.
In April, local RCMP joined with the Abbotsford Police and the Mission detachment, to launch Project Valley Sweep. The three-month operation was directed at chronic offenders who travelled between jurisdictions to commit their crimes.
In the first three weeks, officers checked 160 people from a list of repeat offenders, and made 34 arrests.
By the end of June, statistics showed a two-per-cent reduction in property crime throughout the communities, along with a nine-per-cent drop in thefts of vehicles, thefts from vehicles and break-and-enters.
But that wasn’t the only measure police introduced. As anger and anxiety grew following a several violent events in the downtown – including a very public murder – RCMP Supt. Deanne Burleigh announced in May foot patrols in the downtown.
“We’re moving our resources where we need them,” Burleigh told city council.
The increased police presence was welcomed by a public alarmed by the brazen thefts and the escalating level of violence. Social media was abuzz with calls for action and claims crime was out of control.
One downtown restaurant owner even closed his doors, claiming he was concerned for the safety of his staff. “I don’t feel safe anymore,” wrote managing partner Fabrizio Rossi in a Facebook post, “so I will shut the doors of Society Gathering House next week and fence my building until better and safer times.”
Both Supt. Burleigh and Mayor Sharon Gaetz called for calm. They pointed out that most of the violence was confined to a sector of the community engaged in a criminal lifestyle.
And they called on the public to do its part to prevent crime, like locking vehicles and keeping valuables out of view.
To help them, the city announced a new crime mapping tool in June. The online resource lets community members see what crimes have occurred in their neighbourhood and where. It also offers tips on crime prevention.
But the big news was the announcement of 10 new RCMP members that would be added in 2017.
The additional members will cost $1.7 million annually, said Mayor Gaetz.
“This hopefully will demonstrate just how serious the City of Chilliwack is in the way we tackle crime here,” she said.