April 06, 2015 - 7:34 PM
WEST KELOWNA - You almost have to pity the drug dealer, con man or break-in artist who tries to do business in Shannon Lake. The walls have eyes and they are all connected to each other.
A suspicious thin, white male, late teens, maybe early 20s, driving an old silver or grey Buick, made that mistake. Residents got his picture and posted it to the Facebook group Shannon Lake Friends and now most of the neighbourhood is watching out for him. They’ve also called West Kelowna RCMP and started a file.
It’s part of a growing and perhaps unintended use of social media to bring neighbours back together, whether it’s to share school news or warn others to be on the look-out, sort of like an online Neighbourhood Watch. Carleen Cook says when she started the page, she didn’t really know where it would go.
“I started the page back in 2008 as a way for my neighbourhood friends to communicate,” says Cook, page administrator for Shannon Lake Friends. “It started growing from there.”
Plenty of pages across Facebook focus entirely on crime or neighbourhood watch, but they are often populated by zealots and questionable ‘reporting.’ That wasn’t Cook’s intention. She began posting anything she could find about her neighbourhood. "Garage sales, Shannon Lake school events, lost dogs, pretty much any event in the neighbourhood,” Cook says.
The mainstay of the page is still stray pets, lost and found items and school events. A few local businesses promote themselves there but Cook says they better have a neighbourhood connection.
However it doesn’t take much to get the Shannon Lake Friends talking serious. Attempted break-ins, shady characters checking car doors, missing lawn furniture, all will draw their eyes. It was a couple of break-ins in her own cul-de-sac that seemed to bring some added importance to neighbours helping neighbours.
“I put out a warning and I think a lot of people shared it with their friends in the neighbourhood,” she recalls. “I started getting requests from people who I hadn’t heard of but who knew someone else I knew. That’s when it started to get a bit more serious.”
Cook says the page has grown to the point where she doesn't know all the people on it anymore though she still checks any request she gets to join the page to ensure they either know someone in the group, or have a legitimate reason to join and a profile to match.
“I want to make sure they are not a scammer or a hacker. I’ve rejected a few because once I started looking at their profile, I could totally tell something wasn’t right. They would have no friends or no pictures,” she says.
Reports of a possible child lurer operating in the area several weeks ago drew an immediate response, with a call to the RCMP and a detailed description of both man and truck, including license plate.
The description matched that of a suspect in an earlier child luring incident on Westlake Road. Police arrived quickly but could not find the man. They did, however, promise to check out the plate.
Cook isn’t too concerned that the Friends might call out someone who turns out to be innocent.
“I think it’s helpful for everyone to know what’s going on,” she says. “We just want everyone to be aware. A lot of people look at those posts."
For the record, the West Kelowna RCMP say they have no official relationship with the Friends but encourage all neighbours to be vigilant and report suspicious activity.
Duane MacTavish, crime prevention coordinator for the Central Okanagan Regional District, says the Friends have the right idea, but he would prefer to see them under the auspices of the official Block Watch program.
"I would never discourage people from banding together and watching out for their neighbourhood, but I would rather see them under the umbrella of Block Watch," he says.
To contact the reporter for this story, email John McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-808-0143. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015