Why this Kelowna man is patrolling his neighbourhood at night | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Why this Kelowna man is patrolling his neighbourhood at night

To those keeping track of crime in Rutland, this certainly looks like a bike being stolen.
Image Credit: Submitted/unnamed Rutland patroller
October 11, 2019 - 6:00 PM

If all the officials trying to deal with crime and homelessness really want to know what’s going on in their cities, they could do worse than taking an early morning ride with some Block Watch members in Kelowna.

It’s an activity that is discouraged by Block Watch officials because it can be dangerous — so dangerous, in fact, that a member interviewed by iNFOnews.ca refused to let his identity be revealed. We’re calling him Joe.

“I’ve already been a target for a lot of these thieves that I’ve been watching and taking pictures of,” Joe said. “I’ve been chased. I’ve been threatened. If you do a story on me doing this and my name gets mentioned, I could get threatened even more.”

Joe signed up for Block Watch a few years back, after seeing crime getting worse in the Rutland area of Kelowna.

He’s one of half-a-dozen residents who spend some early morning hours patrolling the streets, documenting some of the drug dealing and stealing. They get to know some of the people and know who has mental health issues, who is dealing drugs and where some of them are living.

It’s an unauthorized variation of the Block Watch program that may provide helpful information to the police but is something that Roy Morgan doesn’t recommend. He’s the crime prevention officer for the Central Okanagan (other than Kelowna) after doing the same job in the North Okanagan. He’s also a director for the provincial Block Watch program.

“The program encourages neighbours to look out for neighbours and to be vigilant and report suspicious activities to the police,” Morgan said. “Know what’s happening in your neighbourhoods.”

He also co-ordinates Citizens on Patrol who are volunteers patrolling the streets at night in marked cars and with some training to observe and report. But they’re not out there in the wee hours of the morning as are the handful of Rutland patrollers.

But it’s important to know what’s going on in the middle of the night, Joe said.

“People need to know what is taking place,” he said. “People have no idea what takes place at night."

He listed off the names of half a dozen people who he consider to be menaces. Some have mental health issues.

This is where Dennis and Peggy camped for awhile.
This is where Dennis and Peggy camped for awhile.
Image Credit: Submitted/unnamed Rutland patroller

There’s Dennis and Peggy who were kicked out of a house where there was limited supervision. They were living on the street with their possessions in a shopping cart until it got too cold. Now they’re paying $600 a month to rent space in a garage with no heat or running water.

Dennis is a heroin addict who turns to dealing when he needs to.

There’s a young man, mid-20s, “who sits on the bus bench, walks down the street staring and cursing at everybody,” Joe said. “If you look at him for more than two seconds, he’ll start swearing at you, threatening he’s going to burn your house down and that you’re a target.”

Kirk plays his guitar outside Save-On. Joe says he’s not a thief but he has been violent. When a woman complimented him on his playing, he threatened to smash his guitar over her head.

Brian is the opposite. He’s not violent but is a thief and a liar. When confronted, he will give stolen goods back – many of them of little value, like a lunch pail or a can of WD-40.

Bikes are the stock in trade for drug addicts, he says. They can trade a bike to a dealer for $20 worth of drugs, $40 if it’s a really good bike.

Some of those were stored in a Sea-Can before being shipped off, presumably out of province, he says. Now thieves are using old motorhomes to store bikes until they have enough to ship off.

Stolen goods are sometimes stored in older motorhomes.
Stolen goods are sometimes stored in older motorhomes.
Image Credit: Submitted/unnamed Rutland patroller

Joe can go on and on about the various problem characters. Most are non-violent and easily scared off.

The main meeting place for dealers, addicts and thieves seems to be the McDonald’s parking lot.

Why is all this happening? Joe points to two things – drugs and the lack of enforcement.

“I’m so disgusted with all this crime,” Joe said. “Most of it is related to drug addiction and there is nothing there to help these people.”

The courts will not prosecute people with possession of drugs for personal use. The police are prevented by privacy legislation from searching people that Joe knows are drug dealers. So, they’re getting bolder, knowing they’re immune, he said.

“I blame government at all levels for this problem we have now,” Joe said.

While it starts at the street level with petty theft and drug dealing, the problem is compounded by the shortage of affordable housing, treatment programs and secure homes for people with mental health problems, Joe said.

“Asylum care was abolished many decades ago and the movement now is towards healing and psycho-social rehabilitation, where a person is able to live as independently as possible and have their civil liberties protected,” Interior Health said in an email.

People like Brian are living independently but are a threat to their community because he wanders into people's yards and snoops in their cars, often taking things for no apparent reason.

Another collection of what looks like stolen goods.
Another collection of what looks like stolen goods.
Image Credit: Submitted/unnamed Rutland patroller

Joe has kept his eye on various drug houses.

“I would send plate numbers and pictures to the police on a regular basis in the hopes of getting them to shut down,” he said. The police would be seen watching the house so the tenants would just move elsewhere.

“Nobody touches them,” he said. "Drug dealing's got to the point that it’s an accepted use."

The problems have gotten worse since Hearthstone and Heath House supportive housing complexes opened during the last year, he said.

There might only be a small percentage of those residents who are drug addicts but their friends visit. The drug dealers hang out in the neighbourhood and the residents are free to wander out to get more drugs every few hours, day and night, even if that means stealing a bike to pay for it.

A lot of the regular Block Watch participants in Rutland have lost faith, Joe said. They don’t seem to be getting a helpful response from the police, courts or support services.

Joe and the others are sticking to it, keeping an eye on their neighbourhoods day and night and reporting in.

“We can’t lose faith in the police,” Morgan, from Block Watch, said. “We do need to encourage people to keep reporting instances. If they feel, at the end of the day, we need more police, the only way we’re going to get more police is by the detachment commander going to council and saying we had 3,500 instances last year and could only attend to 2,300 – or something like that.”

While Joe worries about his safety every time he goes on patrol, he’s determined to add to the police’s reported incident totals and, hopefully, see some of the bad apples taken off the streets.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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