Okanagan cemeteries increasing security after recent memorial thefts | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Okanagan cemeteries increasing security after recent memorial thefts

More than 50 bronze plaques were stolen from Westbank Cemetery last month, one of several thefts that has seen nearly 100 cemetery plaques taken in the valley in recent months.
October 10, 2019 - 7:00 PM

RCMP in three Okanagan cities are conducting investigations and cemeteries are beefing up security after several instances of theft of brass memorial plaques from local graveyards.

In July, thieves made off with four large bronze plaques from Memorial Gardens in Kelowna.

On Sept. 16, West Kelowna RCMP were notified of the theft of 53 bronze grave markers from Westbank Cemetery.

Most recently, the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen discovered the theft of six bronze memorial plaques at Naramata Cemetery.

Kelowna RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Tania Carroll says close to 100 plaques have been stolen throughout the Okanagan Valley. She says metal recycling locations have been contacted and have reacted with outrage similar to what the rest of the public is feeling.

"Most of them won’t be taking this metal,” she says.

Some plaque material was recovered at an undisclosed Penticton location, ground up and cut up into pieces so as to be virtually unrecognizable as a cemetery plaque.

“Some of this may have been turned in for cash,” Carroll says.

West Kelowna RCMP confirmed in a press release issued Sept. 26 most of the West Kelowna plaques were recovered, some of which had been cut into pieces.

All of the intact plaques were returned to their respective cemeteries.

She said they were recovered via an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip.

“No one has been caught red-handed. Kelowna, West Kelowna and Penticton are all conducting investigations and we are hopeful enough information will come forward that charges will be laid,” she says, adding the three detachments are communicating with each other.

Penticton RCMP spokesperson Const. James Grandy says an investigation into the Naramata Cemetery theft is ongoing at this time.

While unsure of the motive, RCMP believe they were likely stolen to be turned in to scrap metal recyclers for cash.

Grandy says it’s difficult to protect the plaques from vandalism.

“Given enough time and patience, the plaques can be removed, especially under cover of darkness,” he says.

Regional district Naramata Director Karla Kozakevich says the district has been reaching out to the families affected to help them replace the markers. She says the recent media attention to the story has helped them identify all but one of the affected graves.

“Staff are increasing their focus and monitoring for further incidents,” Kozakevich says, calling graveyard security “challenging” from an enforcement perspective.

“Cameras are a difficult option, because they’re a privacy invasion to those visiting a cemetery. It’s also unlikely we’d get useful information, with theft likely occurring during nighttime hours,” she says.

The regional district is also asking neighbouring residents to be on alert for unusual activity in the cemetery, and report any such instances to police.

Kozakevich says the markers could cost as much as $500 apiece to replace. The regional district is recommending people opt for granite markers and avoid metal altogether.

Kelowna Memorial Gardens general manager Corey Dixon says the original theft of four large plaques at that cemetery in July cost the cemetery $30,000 to replace. That was followed by 28 military plaques that went missing, but they have been returned and were re-interred today.

He says the cemetery has installed surveillance cameras and have plans to install a temporary gate to deter would-be thieves.

“Until they catch the guys that are doing this, everyone’s pretty vulnerable,” Dixon says.

City of West Kelowna spokesperson Darlene Alexander says the city has increased its security presence and installed an upgraded locking system since the memorial thefts at its cemetery.

Alexander says quotes are in place and a feasibility study is underway for a camera and alarm system.

“It is worth noting that when many of these markers were installed they were done so using adhesive products that are much inferior than modern glue products available today,” Alexander says in an email.

“They were also installed decades ago, when the notion of someone stealing such a family treasure was unimaginable,” she says.

West Kelowna council created a fund to accept public donations to help victims of the recent thefts. In a press release issued yesterday, Oct. 9, the city said donations could be made in person to City Hall at 2760 Cameron Road, or mailed to the City of West Kelowna, Memorial Replacement Fund, 2760 Cameron Road, V1Z 2T6.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips totips@infonews.ca and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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