By Lyonel Doherty
Even the commander of the Oliver RCMP isn’t immune to crime.
At Tuesday night’s safety forum, Sgt. Blaine Gervais disclosed that he was a victim of crime when someone stole his camper from his driveway.
Approximately 30 people attended the forum at the Oliver Community Centre, where residents raised concerns about crime in their neighbourhoods.
The first concern that was raised – speeding near Tuc-el-Nuit Elementary School. Resident Jeffrey McCarthy said he witnesses “law-abiding citizens” driving very fast on Merlot Avenue. So he suggested installing speed bumps to slow people down.
Resident Byron Stetsko said he has spent about $20,000 on fencing, cameras and security gates but that didn’t stop someone from stealing his Ford pickup truck.
“I just wonder where it’s going to end. Ya, I can pass it along to my insurance company, but who’s actually paying at the end?”
Stetsko said he knows these crimes aren’t personal, but it feels almost “like being raped.”
Gervais said the detachment doesn’t have enough manpower to offer a 24-hour policing schedule. So what they work on is targeted enforcement in areas that are hit more often by criminals.
The commander said Oliver has six constables right now, but the detachment is short one member. And he’s trying to get another member to cover the correctional centre.
Gervais said they have a three-tier police auxiliary program in Oliver, so he invites people to contact the RCMP if they are interested.
Bylaw enforcement officer Shilo Lyver warned residents about one problem individual who tends to case neighbourhoods for money.
Gervais said they are well aware of this lady who goes door-to-door seeking money from people by asking for bottles and cans.
“You have be a little guarded when dealing with them because they are trying to take advantage of you,” he stated, noting they are drug addicted.
Gervais said this is a social issue and putting these people in jail won’t cure them.
RCMP Superintendent Ted de Jager said without residents reporting problem areas of crime, police are merely driving around looking for something to happen.
He pointed out that only 30 per cent of police work results in charges.
“This is going to sound weird coming from a cop, but more cops doesn’t necessarily equal less crime,” de Jager said, reiterating the need for community support.
Local resident David Meredith said he calls Oliver the “crime capital of Canada” compared to Surrey where he used to live.
“The whole time I lived there I never had anything stolen; I never was broken into.”
Now he belongs to a strata council that installed security cameras at their complex.
“I think each person has to be accountable for their stuff . . . extra police is not going to solve your problem.”
Fellow resident Michael Guthrie commented on media reports that suggest the South Okanagan is the hot spot for crime in BC.
“The amount of hoodies that I’ve seen . . . if I could sell hoodies I would’ve retired years ago.”
Guthrie said it is clear that the RCMP in Oliver are short-handed, referring to the lack of policing at night.
He also questioned the Town of Oliver’s rebranding project. “At this point in time it’s like putting lipstick on a pig,” noting that crime is this community’s rebranding.
Spartan Street homeowner Bryon Somerville asked what he could do about a problem residence on his street that police are very familiar with. He expressed concern about the constant noise, dirt bike riding and the safety of children in the neighbourhood.
“The worst part for me also is at night; they wake you up every night just about . . . I don’t know what else to do.”
Gervais said this is a targeted residence.
“We counted in the last three months we’ve been to his residence 20 times.”
The commander said they did recover two stolen motorbikes from this home. “We’re working on that guy; we don’t give him many breaks.”
De Jager said maybe this guy’s property taxes need to go up if his actions are creating 20 calls for service.
Spartan Street residence Woody VanDrimmelen raised a concern about the “smoke pit” near the high school and the fact girls have been smoking marijuana on his neighbour’s retaining wall. He noted his concern for the safety of his 11-year-old daughter.
“I went to the vice-principal; obviously nothing was done.”
De Jager said police will continue to target anyone who sells marijuana illegally, noting their recent enforcement action on a dispensary in Okanagan Falls. He added that when recreational cannabis is legalized this year, police will enforce whatever rules come forward.
Near the end of the forum, Guthrie called on the mayor and council to come up with a hard and fast plan to solve the crime problem in Oliver.
“We have to be prepared to buck up some more tax dollars to maybe jump in and help out to form a city-wide police force like Abbotsford finally had to do.”
Another resident relayed his concern that drug dealers on Spartan Avenue and Road 6 are still walking the streets and “nobody is doing nothing about it.”
Addiction and its relation to crime was another topic that came up. Corporal Christina Tarasoff said the RCMP are working with Dr. Peter Entwistle to address this problem.
De Jager said the RCMP are targeting landlords and prolific offenders when they are released.
“If someone is released from the correctional centre, who lives here, we’re going to talk to them and have a talk with the landlord.”
McCarthy said the justice system is people going after their members of parliament to make a difference. And he noted the holistic approach to crime prevention is people making it difficult for criminals to steal their possessions.