NEWS FEATURE: Keeping an eye out

Having neighbours watch for suspicious behaviour can reduce property crime in Oak Bay

As a block captain

As a block captain

The weather was hot, the window was open.

But the residents of a house in the 2300-block of Windsor Road weren’t home on Sept. 4.

An intruder zeroed in on the window and climbed inside the house, where they found keys to a 1998 Honda Accord that was parked in the garage.

Oak Bay police said the car was used to drive around the block to a house on Monterey Avenue, where a 1988 GMC Jimmy was broken into, but not stolen.

The Accord has not yet been found.

While police continually warn residents to keep their home windows and doors locked and suggest installation of a security system, Block Watch programs are another effective way of reducing crime in Oak Bay neighbourhoods.

“One of the things that a lot of people have concerns about is burdening police with work they don’t think is applicable,” said Const. Laurence Riel, community liaison officer with Oak Bay police.

“It may not mean anything to you, but that little event could be the one piece of evidence that could break a case open.”

Jacqui Schoffner, Block Watch captain for Carrick Street, said people shouldn’t hesitate to call police.

“It is (so important),” she said.

“I don’t know how you can over-emphasize, to call the police if you see anything strange. It sounds simple, but people feel foolish and it’s hard to tell people that it’s not foolish.”

Block Watch members discuss crime trends and ways to keep their properties safe. There are about 60 such groups in Oak Bay working closely with police to report and solve property crimes.

Schoffner has heard of residents going out to talk to suspicious characters in their yards before calling police – those suspects are generally long gone before officers can arrive to investigate.

In general, Riel said, residents should “err on the side of caution” when securing their homes. Such a strategy is doubly important now, with a rash of break-ins recently in the municipality – 15 in just over two weeks.

“I’ve been here for so long and to see that many break-ins over a 15-day span, that’s just unheard of,” Riel said. “This is definitely an influx and it’s unusual for this area – it’s something we need to address right away.”

This summer, Oak Bay police started a service for residents who planned to be away on vacation, yet were concerned for the safety of their property. Residents inform police of the dates they are away, and officers drive by or walk around the property while on patrol to ensure nothing is awry.

Riel also heads the department’s home security audit service. The program entails a walk-through by police to determine a house’s security weak spots and strong points, plus suggestions for easy fixes to address flimsy security.

Break-in numbers trending downward

Police painted a rosier picture of the home and vehicle theft problem this week.

Oak Bay Police Department Deputy Chief Kent Thom reported that thefts from vehicles were down last week, plus home break-ins had dropped considerably.

However, the drop coincided with an increase in suspicious persons calls, he said.

“Factors influencing this trend are the greater awareness residents have of their surroundings,” Thom said. “Residents are urged to call police if they see anything that seems suspicious in nature.”

Here’s how to get involved in Block Watch:

• email or call 250-592-2424

• Ask about existing Block Watch captains in your neighbourhood

• Ask for an application package to start your own Block Watch

• Talk to neighbours about getting involved and hosting meetings

• For more info, visit