More than ever, Nanaimo and Lantzville residents are keeping an eye out for suspicious activity in their neighbourhoods.
Nanaimo RCMP say there’s been a sharp increase in interest in Block Watch programs in 2018, with perhaps 20-25 new chapters forming or in the initial stages of development. It brings the number of Block Watch chapters in the area to 101, with about 80 of those groups considered active.
“There’s been an explosion of Block Watch in probably the last six months and it’s directly correlated to tent city and the increase in theft and drugs throughout our community,” said Const. Gary O’Brien, Nanaimo RCMP spokesman. “People want to do something. They want to be proactive. They know that calling 911, [a crime] has already happened.”
He said four Block Watch groups are in the start-up stages in the area surrounding new temporary supportive housing on Terminal Avenue. O’Brien said between South Wellington and Lantzville, almost 10,000 people are part of Block Watch programs, close to a goal of 15 per cent of the population.
“When you get 15 per cent, speaking with our crime analysts, you start having a significant impact,” he said.
Garry Gaudet, captain of Lantzville’s Tweedhope Road Block Watch chapter, said a recent call for membership drew overwhelming interest.
“When we recruited the last couple of months, the response was just absolutely amazing,” he said. “People are really hungry and thirsty for the kind of community that people pay attention to what’s going on with their neighbours.”
He said his group’s membership has tripled and can’t really even accommodate more members; he hopes neighbouring blocks will start their own chapters.
Gaudet said there have been more complaints in Lantzville about “petty crimes” such as people stealing propane tanks and break-ins to community mailboxes.
“Folks see it’s happening here and they’re kind of getting twitchy about it, because basically, Lantzville has always been a pretty quiet, neighbourly community…” said Gaudet. “We’re seeing a lot more strangers in the neighbourhood.”
O’Brien said the City of Nanaimo is a valued partner in Block Watch – city workers install the signs, for example – and said there’s a lot of information on the city website for people interested in the program.
“It’s not the simple placement of the signs, it’s what got them to putting the signs there,” he said. “It’s the education, the neighbours coming together, leaders coming forward to get the neighbourhood involved. That’s what it’s about … We don’t expect them to be the cop on the block; we don’t expect them to have an advanced knowledge of crime prevention techniques … We want to work with them to ensure that they’re doing everything possible to keep themselves safe and their communities safe.”