Anger, frustration and fear about rural crime has been bubbling up over recent months, and it came to a head at a town hall meeting on Tuesday evening in Aldergrove.
About 100 people of all ages packed the Aldergrove Rotary Fieldhouse meeting room Tuesday evening to tell their stories to panelists Township Mayor Jack Froese and Langley RCMP Superintendent Murray Power. A number of councillors and police officers were also present, however, Froese and Power were the ones who responded to the audience’s request for support in their battle against the break-ins and thefts that have allegedly plagued the Aldergrove area south of Fraser Highway.
Both Froese and Power told the crowd that they understood and empathized with the complainants and that police will work with the residents on the problems.
“Our homes must be our castles,” said Power, saying he was moved by residents who told their stories of frightening incidents.
“This is real, it is not lost on us,” said Power.
“We want to work with you to find solutions,” said Froese, who recalled that a similar situation in the north Otter area several years ago had been resolved after neighbours there worked in concert with police to evict a known crime family from the area.
Froese noted that while serving as an officer with Vancouver City Police for 19 years he saw that for victims “the worst thing was their sense of security was stolen from them, they felt violated.”
However, he added that, “Police must follow due process, the rule of law and privacy, but the crooks don’t.”
Most of the complaints are about property crimes, regarding tools and equipment going missing and break-ins to outbuildings.
Fred Pepin has lived here for 40 years without any problems, but in recent months has had three thefts, or attempted thefts. In the most recent case the thieves had piled Pepin’s tools by the fence and then left to get a pickup truck to take it away. In the meantime Pepin had called the police, who arrived just as the thieves pulled up in their truck. The constable talked to the men but was unable to do anything more as they didn’t enter Pepin’s property.
“They are very careful not to get trapped on your property,” said Pepin.
However, a young girl named Miranda told her harrowing story of how her father had found a man armed with a hunting knife and a hammer hiding in a basement closet just before he left for work at 5 a.m. one morning. The man, who had already stolen property from the family’s vehicle and home, ran off without his shoes on.
While no one was physically injured in this case Miranda said she and her sister live in fear every day since. Their mother Tracey had already left for work and if her father had gone to work instead of investigating why things had gone missing while the family slept, the two girls would have been left alone sleeping in their beds while this man was in their home.
“We now lock all the doors all of the time,” said Tracey. “And our girls won’t get out of their cars to lock the gate if they get home after dark. They’re suspicious of everyone they see passing by.”
The meeting was organized by Jamie Shaw, who had put up a large sign on his property several months ago warning that thieves were at work in the area. Shaw said he did it after a generator was stolen from his shop and while he said the sign was somewhat controversial it led to 30 neighbors stopping by to say they had also recently experienced thefts from the rural properties.
“After four months went by the thieves started to enter homes,” said Shaw, who then circulated 250 letters to neighbours and started a block watch program to “gather information” on the crimes and possible suspects.
Shaw now has over 100 active members of the block watch, who keep their eyes on suspicious vehicles and persons cruising the streets, recording what they see.
On a couple of occasions they have also organized rallies outside the residences of suspected thieves in the neighbourhood. These confrontations have been noisy but so far neither side has crossed the property lines.
“It’s just a few people terrorizing a rural community,” said Mike. “They are cruising the streets, snooping around places and we weren’t organized (before).
“Now we are the eyes and ears, and we have energy, effort and emotion. We need the police to be more proactive now.”
Residents who had recently experienced property crime coloured in their locations on a map that was presented to Langley RCMP and Township representatives.