A group of civilians in Dawson Creek, B.C. at wits’ end with soaring crime rates has begun patrolling the streets, tracking offenders to report to police and sometimes, tailing suspects caught in the act.
Doug Scott, a leader of Citizens Take Action, said the two-month-old group aims to combat excessive property crime in the city of about 12,000 people, and feels the RCMP is failing in its mandate to prevent crime, enforce the law and investigate offences.
“You have an individual who commits a property crime — they steal whatever — the RCMP sources the guy, they arrest him, pick him up and he’s back on the streets 10 minutes later,” Scott told Global News.
“Where does the province figure that this is acceptable behaviour? Our town runs around being scared … the residents are scared because 20 people keep doing 80 per cent of the crime.”
In November, Dawson Creek RCMP filed a report to mayor and council outlining an increase of 138 per cent in calls about breaking and entering into businesses between January and October 2022, compared to the same timeframe in the previous year.
That report said officers also fielded a 54 per cent spike in calls about theft of vehicles and a 33 per cent spike in calls about thefts from vehicles. Other theft calls, including shoplifting, increased 42 per cent, while mental health calls jumped 50 per cent.
The only significant decrease in service calls between January and October last year was in drug possession and trafficking — 40 per cent — and impaired driving, which decreased 18 per cent.
At a Nov. 21 council meeting, Scott addressed Dawson Creek’s mayor and council on behalf of the concerned group, stating that the “status quo is no longer working.” Another presenter from the group said residents of Dawson Creek are “on edge” and sleeping in fear with “bats, guns and bear spray at the ready.”
A Nov. 14 letter from several concerned citizens to the RCMP also outlined several incidents of vehicle theft and threats of violence that month, but said in every instance, officers seemed more interested in arresting and charging the civilian members at the scene than the suspects they had chased down.
A Nov. 15 news release from Dawson Creek RCMP states police were aware of a “vigilante group” in the area and warned that its actions could result in criminal charges or personal civil liabilities and impede investigations.
“The RCMP cannot condone or support criminality in any form, including vigilantism, as this puts the broader community at risk,” Staff Sgt. Kris Clark told Global News by email on Friday.
“But the community CAN help the police, by providing timely, actionable information that will progress our investigations towards successful charges. We want to assure the public that the RCMP work hard to combat crime and that the safety of our communities is important to us.”
Earlier this week, Dawson Creek Coun. Charlie Parslow presented a motion to council asking staff to prepare a multi-year proposal for the installation of security cameras in the city, acknowledging a “high level of vandalism and theft.”
Attorney General Niki Sharma attended that Jan. 9 council meeting virtually to discuss the community’s safety concerns and reassure them that the province’s Safer Communities Action Plan will strengthen enforcement and improve support services.
“As part of this plan, we’re standing up new repeat violent offender coordinated response teams made up of police, dedicated prosecutors and probation officers and expanding mental health crisis response teams so police can focus on crime and people in crisis can get the care they need,” Sharma said in an emailed statement to Global News.
“At the same time, we are continuing to push for improvements to our national bail system so more repeat, violent offenders are held in custody before trial.”
Peace River South MLA Mike Bernier said he’s concerned somebody is going to get hurt in the midst of all this, but understands the sentiment that criminals are getting away with more than than those impacted by their crimes.
“Obviously a fear of mine, and I think a lot of people, is that things will escalate,” he explained. “That’s the last thing anybody wants, but in saying that, people are also not going to sit on their hands and let this continue.
“The property crime has just gotten so far out of control. I mean, you always have a little bit here and there, but now it’s gotten to the point where it’s just just blatantly obvious, it’s in the middle of the day, it’s right in front of people.”
Citizens Take Action, meanwhile, said it will continue its regular “zigzag” patrols, taking winding routes through neighbourhoods and jotting down what appear to be problematic residences or suspects.
While confrontation does happen on occasion, Scott said members try to avoid conflict and phone RCMP at the first opportunity. He acknowledged the group operates in the “grey zone,” and is “riding the line.”
“We just want to hold everybody accountable,” he explained. “I hope they take it seriously and choose to change.”
Citizens Take Action has already helped recover several stolen vehicles, including ATVs, Scott added.