News

Cedar school opens School Watch chapter

Woodbank Primary School and its neighbours are responding to recent vandalism by starting the first School Watch Chapter in Cedar.

Concerned parents and neighbours of the school gathered Wednesday to learn about the program and find out how they can prevent future vandalism at the school and deter crime in the surrounding neighbourhood.

The school, located on Woobank Road, suffered more than $3,700 worth of interior and exterior damage when four youth broke in, smashed windows and discharged fire extinguishers New Year's Eve.

The suspects also damaged an irrigation system and outdoor furniture at nearby homes before residents detained one of the youths and called police. Police have since identified all four suspects and charges are expected.

Const. Gary O'Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman and officer responsible for School Watch, said the program was also well-received at Pleasant Valley Elementary School, but failed to generate much interest at John Barsby Community and McGirr Elementary schools.

A suspicious fire McGirr Elementary School caused more than $50,000 in fire, smoke and water damage in May 2010. The police investigation into the fire remains open.

"Peoples' lives are already busy," O'Brien said. "Now if School Watch was launched at the same time as the arson happened we would have been overflowing with people in that community, but it was a year later. You have to strike when it's hot."

Topics discussed at Wednesday's meeting ranged from security lighting to youth gathering at night.

Residents also learned they can call out Footprints Security, which is under contract to the school district, if they see or hear suspicious activity.

"Often, with their marked car, they can diffuse the issue and do a quick assessment to see if the police are actually required," O'Brien said. "They can also monitor situations for us."

Another benefit of School Watch, O'Brien said, is the school becomes the hub for information between the community and police.

"We've never had that kind of layering effect before," O'Brien said. "It was always one person might get the information, or the school, but now everybody is in the loop and everybody is aware of the information as it develops."

Once information about who the primary instigators of vandalism in an area are known, police can send in school liaison officers to work with youth, the school and parents and find long-term solutions to problem situations rather than simply sending in a patrol car to disperse teenagers.

Christina Ansell, school principal, is looking forward to the extra eyes and ears of parents and neighbours who frequently drive by the school.

"It's too our mutual advantage," Ansell said. "The School Watch program is an offshoot of the Block Watch program, so a lot of the people who came to the meeting decided that they would also begin a Block Watch. We'll run the two of them in conjunction."

She said the effectiveness of the program will likely become apparent as spring weather improves and more youth start hanging around the school yard.

"If it's just kids playing on the playground and skateboarding, well of course, it's public property. We want them to enjoy the property, but not wreck it," Ansell said.

The next School Watch meeting is set for Cinnabar Elementary School, Wednesday (Feb. 22) at 7 p.m.

To learn more about this program, please call the Nanaimo RCMP at 250-755-3257.

Anyone with information about a crime is asked to call Nanaimo RCMP at 250-754-2345 or contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or online at www.nanaimocrimestoppers.com.

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