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Taylor residents talk crime at public forum

Talks started about establishing neighbourhood crime watch to help prevent property crimes
It was a full house at the Taylor community hall on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023, as residents met to discuss property crime trends and prevention in the community with local officials.

Education and participation were the focus Monday night as Taylor residents met with police, politicians, and prosecution officials to talk property crime trends and prevention in the community.

It was a full house at the community hall, a chance to review recent RCMP statistics, the steps needed to start a rural crime watch, and a rare opportunity to hear directly from the chief prosecutor for Northern B.C. about the criminal justice process.

“Crime is everyone’s business,” said Mayor Brent Taillefer. “Everyone plays a role in the reduction of crime.”

Annually, Taylor makes up less than 1,000 of the 12,000 files that the Fort St. John RCMP handles in a year, according to local detachment commander Insp. Tony Hanson. But the “bedroom community” south of the city hasn’t been immune to a spike in property crimes being seen on both sides of the border in the B.C. and Alberta Peace regions, he said.

According to 2022 statistics, there were 45 property crimes in the district and surrounding area, including 15 break and enters to homes and businesses, seven vehicle thefts, and 11 instances of general mischief to property.

Hanson said on any given policing shift, two of the seven officers on duty out of the local detachment are provincially funded, covering an area north to the Sikanni Chief River and east to the Alberta border.

That means much of the police response to Taylor is supported by municipal officers from Fort St. John, which he said is a benefit to the community.

“That doesn’t mean that the crime here doesn’t matter,” said Hanson. “Talking about proportion of statistics and where our resources go, Taylor is fairly well policed.”

Hanson said the detachment solves most but not all of its investigations, and that the bulk of commercial and residential property crime is committed by a very small number of people, oftentimes to support a drug habit or simply because “that’s all they know how to do.”

But because there is no provincial funding for a local crime reduction unit, Hanson said he and the detachment commander in Dawson Creek, leveraging extra support from North District RCMP, had to form their own crew to deal with the issue.

“We can adapt, we can improvise, and we’ve had success. We’ve put two of the prolifics that we thought were committing crimes in jail. Now we just need to keep them there," he said.

"There's not one type that of person that does this crime. There's many different people with many different motivations," Hanson added.

"Our job is to catch them, we catch most of them, and then we do the best investigation possible in order to give the Crown what they need to successfully prosecute them and, if they're prolifics, hopefully put them in custody for several years."

Rural crime watch

Funding dedicated police officers for Taylor has been the subject of previous council discussions, estimated to cost up to $1 million a year for full-time coverage.

However, Taillefer says there’s currently no mechanism to get those officers as policing for communities with less than 5,000 people is provided directly by the province, not the municipality.

Taillefer says the district will be lobbying for needed changes to rural policing through the North Central Local Government Association and the Union of BC Municipalities, adding the Peace River Regional District is also “very interested” in improving the rural policing model.

“Two members at the most to cover this huge area we feel, in Taylor, is not enough,” he said. “So if we need to increase provincial policing and that means they need to collect money through taxation to do so for the rural areas, I believe that people are OK with spending a little more money to see more police.”

“That is the route, rather than trying to hire a police officer for Taylor is to get more rural policing for the whole region,” he said.

Talks were started at Monday’s forum about establishing a rural crime watch or citizens on patrol program as a way to help prevent crime in Taylor in the meantime.

John Vetter, a retired police officer and current director of the South Peace Crime Prevention Association, said his group was established in 1993 to oversee rural crime watch programs, including citizens on patrol and block parents, in the Dawson Creek area.

There are about six or seven communities around the city now participating in rural crime watch, with the Tomslake chapter celebrating its 30th anniversary last year, he said.

“Community programs work. The police have limited resources and they can use the help of the citizens in the community to report crime, to be eyes and ears,” he said.

“It doesn’t really matter the size of the community if there’s an intention from the community to get involved,” Vetter added, noting three key things would be needed to get such an initiative in Taylor off the ground.

“You need volunteers in the community, you need the support of the detachment, and with the support of the detachment would come a designated liaison officer that could work with the program,” he said.

Local courts 'very busy'

Also among those in attendance at the forum and part of a panel discussion were MLA Dan Davies as well as Lori Stevens, Regional Crown Counsel, and Tyler Bauman, Deputy Regional Crown Counsel, who oversee prosecutions in Northern B.C.

Stevens and Bauman encouraged residents to ask questions of the Crown if they are ever involved in a prosecution, and to not get so cynical about crime that they don’t bother reporting it. There are four prosecutors in Fort St. John and three judges sitting in the area managing provincial court items here in the city and Dawson Creek.

“Fort St. John has a court list that is longer than most,” Stevens acknowledged, adding that charge approvals out of the local Crown office are quite high, meaning police are bringing good investigations to trials that proceed, and witnesses, particularly victims of crime, are showing up to give evidence in court.

“Prosecutions are happening every day,” she said. “You’ve got a very busy place, very hard working Crown, very hard working police.”

For his part, Davies said his work with provincial police reform committee brought forward 11 recommendations to the legislature last year, including a call for a more equitable policing system that meets specific and regional needs of a community.

"The entire system needs to be reviewed on how the funding of our police forces, especially in rural areas, is done," Davies said, noting reporting crime is critical so it can be captured in statistics that can then be brought to government.

"My job is to advocate and make sure these things are brought forward," he said. "Everyone is a citizen here... When the voices are combined, the City of Fort St. John, the District of Taylor, the regional district, and those voices are really out there and pushing government to change, that is where change can be impacted."

After the meeting, Taillefer said he felt the forum went well, and hoped those who attended share what they heard and learned with other community members.

The goal, he said, is to “move forward with Taylor continuing to be a safe place to live.”

“We certainly want Taylor to be the safest place you can live," he said, "and we need to do that by working together."

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