Column: When crime hits close to home

Property crime, whether random or targeted, has a profound effect on people's sense of community and security.

A screenshot of the City of Chilliwack's interactive crime statistics map.

A screenshot of the City of Chilliwack's interactive crime statistics map.

He was supposed to be in Abbotsford for his cancer treatment on Monday.

But David Dear had to cancel.

Early Saturday morning his vehicle was vandalized so badly it couldn’t be driven.

“It’s completely trashed,” his wife, Catherine, told me, her voice shaking with emotion.

Their car was one of six vehicles damaged in a secured parking garage at an apartment on School Street. The alarm was disabled; the ignition system was ripped apart. And when the car couldn’t be stolen, it was stripped.

The crime was caught on video. But David isn’t holding out much hope for justice. “The police told us these people were homeless, and there was nothing they could do.”

David suspects the theft was a little more sophisticated than that.

“They knew what they were doing,” he says.

“They weren’t homeless. They were thieves.”

The level of sophistication in local property crimes became evident a couple days later. Rumours had been circulating about a U-Haul, linked to possible break-ins in a downtown neighbourhood. Residents were being urged to keep a sharp eye.

Early Monday morning police were alerted to a suspicious vehicle in the area. The vehicle sped off, smashing into a tree on the front lawn of a Maple Avenue home. The driver fled, but left behind tools that could be used in a break-in. The back of the cube van was empty.

The two incidents come as Chilliwack RCMP and the City of Chilliwack unveil a new tool in the effort to reduce property crime.

Read More: Dedicated Chilliwack RCMP unit to crack down on prolific offenders

The Priority Offender Suppression Team (POST) is modelled after last year’s successful “Valley Sweep.” Both initiatives target prolific offenders, using a dedicated team. They check curfews, enforce court-ordered conditions, and ensure those who are actively engaged in a criminal lifestyle are having a difficult time at it.

The four-member team’s mandate “is the reduction and prevention of the street level sale of illegal drugs and property crime in the community.”

The increased enforcement is made possible through the $1 million in additional police resources allocated in this year’s city budget.

With the increased funding, RCMP will add an additional 10 members to the Chilliwack detachment.

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz says she understands the devastation property crime can have on an individual’s sense of security and well-being. “Prolific offenders have a profoundly destructive impact on our community,” she said in making Friday’s announcement. “Initiatives like this stop them in their tracks.”

David and Catherine hope so.

They moved here from Langley two years ago, and since then, says, Catherine, “It’s getting worse and worse.”

She wants the public to know the hurt property crimes cause people – people like her husband who’s already dealing with a life-threatening illness.

“Do these people know what they’ve done?”

She hopes that maybe, just maybe, those responsible might think twice if they understood the pain they cause.

But the daily court docket at the Chilliwack court house would suggest otherwise. With disturbing regularity the same names appear again and again. The pattern reflects the reality that a small portion of the population is responsible for the majority of the crime.

Police and politicians are hoping that by targeting that sector, people like David and Catherine won’t have their lives so disrupted.

And, yes, aggressive enforcement, coupled with prevention, is an important step toward meeting that goal.

However, equally important, is a justice system that has enough teeth and sufficient resources to deter repeat and chronic offenders.