Sechelt Mayor Darnelda Siegers does not shy away from describing a spike in break-ins and petty thefts in the area as a “crime wave,” but she also says she’s confident Sunshine Coast RCMP are doing everything possible to catch what she believes are “only a small number of people who are responsible.”
RCMP statistics show break and enters and thefts from vehicles in April, May and June were about on par with the three-year average of fewer than 10 a month, but the numbers jumped dramatically in July and August and the trend has continued into early September.
Sunshine Coast RCMP commander, Staff Sgt. Poppy Hallam, told Coast Reporter that during one five-day stretch in August there was a business break-in every night and from July 1 to Sept. 1 there were a total of 17 commercial break and enters. There was also an increase in residential break-ins and thefts from vehicles.
All three Sunshine Coast golf clubs have been targeted. There have also been break-ins at the Sunshine Coast Botanical Garden and the Sechelt landfill, and smash-and-grab thefts from businesses in downtown Sechelt.
Hallam said police are taking an “intelligence-led” approach to tackling the recent uptick in property crime, which she said has mainly impacted Sechelt and rural areas north of Roberts Creek, by drawing on resources like a Lower Mainland based crime analyst.
“We have suspects,” Hallam said, adding that RCMP are working to gather evidence and build cases. Last week a 49-year-old Sechelt woman was charged with a number of residential break-ins and a man was arrested in connection with thefts from vehicles.
Hallam also said investigators are making progress in the break-ins at five homes in the evacuated Seawatch neighbourhood, after security camera photos led to the identification of possible suspects.
Sechelt council faced a barrage of questions at its Sept. 4 meeting from a resident who placed the blame for crime in his neighbourhood squarely on the increase in the homeless population.
Siegers said she’s concerned about that perception. “We have a few people who are responsible for the crime, but because of the spotlight that we’ve put on the homeless, drug addiction, those sorts of issues in the community, they seem to think that the two go hand-in-hand.”
Hallam said police also believe the crimes are being committed by a small number of suspects, and that many of them are locals who aren’t necessarily homeless. Hallam does, however, draw a connection with the illicit drug trade and said the local detachment is looking to fill a corporal position with someone who has experience with drug investigations.
Another emerging issue for RCMP and the district’s bylaw department is the growing number of complaints related to campers and RVs parked around Sechelt overnight, both on district and private property.
Hallam said RCMP and district officials “are in constant contact over these issues.”
Hallam said she’s reassigned officers to try to make more resources available at night and in the areas where the crimes have been occurring. “I’m authorizing extra overtime for police officers to be out on the street at those times. We are doing some targeted enforcement… We’re doing what we can to be where we need to be.”
Hallam has also been working with E-Comm, the agency that handles 911 calls for the Sunshine Coast, so operators know certain crimes are on the rise and calls that might not have gotten priority in the past should be relayed to officers faster.
“I know it’s frustrating for the general public when they call after hours and it’s not a 911 emergency, they’re getting left on hold for sometimes upwards of 45 minutes,” Hallam said. “And when there’s a suspicious vehicle parked outside someone’s house or they drove by the golf course and saw a suspicious vehicle parked there, I would say that would warrant potentially a 911 call.”
Hallam said police can’t fight a crime wave like this without the public’s help, which means encouraging people to make sure they lock up their cars and houses, take additional security measures at their homes and businesses and report suspicious activity.
Hallam praised local businesses for being open to working with the RCMP, which has been building a database of security cameras so when there’s an incident they can speed up the investigations by contacting nearby businesses.
“We really appreciate those businesses who have been providing us video footage and doing what they can to support each other,” Hallam said.
Siegers said Sechelt is not the only community in B.C. experiencing issues around increasing crime, and she expects it will be a topic of discussion when municipal leaders get together at the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) meeting later this month.
Siegers also said she wants to use the UBCM meeting as an opportunity to talk with provincial officials about ensuring Sunshine Coast RCMP have appropriate resources and a full staff complement.