Port Alberni RCMP officer in charge Inspector Brian Hunter says the community is experiencing a significant amount of recidivism with chronic offenders.
During his quarterly report to city council on Monday, Oct. 23, Hunter said that property crime was significantly up for the quarter, at 345 calls for service compared to 297 calls for service during the same time period in 2016.
In fact, property crime is the highest it’s been for this quarter during the last nine years.
Hunter added that break and enters, shoplifting, theft from vehicles and frauds are seeing the largest increases.
The Port Alberni detachment has identified 26 chronic offenders, he said. Sixteen of them are in custody, and there are two that have outstanding warrants in the community. Since the council meeting, one shoplifter has been arrested, but one is still being sought.
Hunter explained that chronic offenders are being arrested multiple times and released back into the community, sometimes within days or hours. He relayed five significant examples of chronic property offenders in the community, all with multiple charges, most of whom are still in the community.
“It’s not a criticism at all of our justice system,” said Hunter. “We have procedures and precedents that we have to work with. I’m not saying it’s not frustrating.”
There has been an especially large increase in shoplifting, with 40 incidences this year compared to 28 last year. “I’m not going to put a number out there,” said Hunter. “But I can tell you it’s in the hundreds of thousands of dollars lost to shoplifting in this community on an annual basis.”
Mayor Mike Ruttan was especially concerned with shoplifting in the community.
“We have businesses that have closed because of thefts,” he said. “This community can’t afford to have the closure of businesses, because all that does is just drive people away from the community.”
Ruttan suggested there is a “market” for the items being stolen. “There may be a small number of people that are large purchasers of things that are stolen from private property,” he said.
Hunter confirmed that the RCMP are aware of some individuals.
Ruttan asked if there is anything the city can do.
“It really comes down to the drug abuse and the systemic issues with that,” said Hunter. “Poverty and homelessness. If we could tackle all of those, you can look at cutting your police force by 10 people.”
Ruttan also hinted at increasing lighting in alleys, which is something that has been discussed by council as a possible solution before.
Hunter also addressed the community during last Monday’s council meeting.
“We need the eyes and the ears of the community to share with us what they’re seeing out there,” he said. “It might be that little piece of puzzle that we need to solve a myriad of crimes. Some of these folks commit a lot of crimes.”
Port Alberni RCMP implemented a Block Watch program this year, accessible through the Community Policing office at Harbour Quay. Hunter encouraged interested citizens to get involved.
“You can see in this, it’s deep-rooted,” said Hunter. “These folks need some help. We deal with a lot of individuals that are suffering from mental health issues. They don’t belong in police custody. They don’t belong in my jail, they don’t belong in the criminal justice system. They need some help.”
Councillor Chris Alemany touched on the decriminalization of drug use, or treating the issue as a medical problem to try and get a better handle on it.
“There’s only so many of you,” he said. “And there’s only so much the community can do when you have 10 people who can wreak havoc on a community, and it’s all based around a cycle of using drugs or mental health concerns, addiction, homelessness. These are all issues that are bigger than Port Alberni.”
Councillor Denis Sauvé reiterated that community needs to work with the RCMP, by reporting suspicious activity.
“This has to be done right, and it has to be done through the police,” he said. “[You’re] part of the solution, so take a stand and report any suspicious activity.”