By Ryan King
SOUTHWEST COAST – Crime and the efforts to address it has become a growing concern, as municipal leaders have expressed frustration that the RCMP detachment in Port aux Basques is understaffed, and that a greater police presence in the communities along the coast would deter crime. This belief is shared by the new Mayor of Port aux Basques, Brian Button, who like his predecessor John Spencer, is working to fulfill the previous council’s goal of increasing the numbers of officers stationed in the area.
“Obviously my stance on it is the same as the previous council. I do think that we are understaffed, in my opinion, for the area. When we’re looking at the geography of our region, I certainly think that when it comes to staffing, I believe that we are understaffed with the particular numbers. I know statistics,” says Button, “When you’re talking about statistics and the actual crime rate for the area is down, and I think that’s a wonderful thing, but I also think that can be contributed to a presence as well. So I certainly feel that when it comes to our RCMP presence and policing presence in the area it warrants a number of officers just to cover our area. You’ve only got to look at if there’s a call in Rose Blanche, and then there’s a call up in Port aux Basques, or there’s a call in the Codroy Valley, you know we’re talking about a large area to cover.”
Button is hoping to plan future meetings with those involved in staffing the local detachment to address the issue in detail, something he has not yet had the chance to do.
“I also want to talk to our provincial and federal counterparts about the RCMP and when it comes to budgeting, and numbers, and so on and so forth. So hopefully over the next little while we’ll get these meetings, and you know, we’ll continue to lobby for a greater presence for the area,” says Button.
Button says many of the current councillors cited the number of police officers in the area as an important issue for them during the recent municipal election, and that it has remained at the forefront of discussions since.
“But there is a process of course,” says Button. “So we will keep lobbying.”
Loyola Gallant, who lives in South Branch, had to deal with a theft in November 2020, when someone stole gas from his property. He turned to social media to try and find the person responsible, but was subsequently mocked for doing so.
“They came in from behind my house and went into my shed and walked out with two cans of gas, but they were back on to the surveillance camera, and it wasn’t really bright enough, I guess, to make out exactly who they were when they got over to the shed, so I couldn’t identify them. Well I didn’t know the person anyhow, like from what I had seen if it was somebody that I knew I could probably identify them. So I ran their picture on Facebook, and I was ridiculed, so I took it back down,” said Gallant.
He says that he did not find the response from other residents within the community particularly surprising, as Gallant believes that the views of many on crime continues to fuel the issue.
“Now I’m going to tell you, the people in the community got to decide what do they want, because they can’t suck and blow at the same time. They either got to do one or the other. People, when the police cracked down on the side-by-sides and were up around Codroy Valley and seized a couple of quads and stuff, people were complaining they were harassed by the police on social media, because I read it,” said Gallant. “And I don’t blame the lack of police presence in the community on the thieves that are here. If you’re a thief, you’re a thief. You can’t blame the police shortage.”
Gallant believes that other contributing factors may include a family history of crime, genetics, and people without incomes.
“I worked in Corner Brook as a Mental Health and Addictions Nurse, I worked on the Mental Health Unit in there, and I’ve dealt with all those type of people all of my life that hid away. There were thieves,” said Gallant. “I think a lot of it is genetics in the family. Their family knows that they are stealing. Their parents done it ahead of them. It’s here in Codroy Valley. I grew up in South Branch, and you see people running back and forth the road daily with a quad. They got to have gas for it, they got to have repairs for it, and they’re not working. Now you tell me how they gets the money?”
Overall, Gallant believes the problem is endemic to the community and cannot be solved just by increasing police numbers.
“It’s very deep rooted in the community and the family condones what they do in a lot of instances. I can’t say that every family would condone somebody stealing, but a lot of them, a lot of them will.”
The theft of gas on Gallant’s property was not an isolated incident. He had previously deterred people who drove into his driveway with a walking stick “shaped like a gun.” He said they returned a month or so later, but he never had enough lights. He then installed more lights to serve as a deterrent, but then received a visit from the police.
“I’ll tell you what the community will do. I had one streetlight here, and I went and I got two more streetlights to put in to light up my area. The next day I had a visit from the police. You say there’s not enough police in the area? Somebody called the police because I had too much lighting in my area. I was interfering with them driving down the road, is what they said. Honest to Jesus, I mean, it’s shocking. Now that’s the type of stuff you got in the community. The thief, to be able to come into my shed and me not see him.”
The police officer did not make him remove his security measures, and later on Gallant installed an additional light.
“You want me to tell you what he told me?,” shared Gallant. “He said if it was his area, he’d have it lit up too.”
In addition to the extra lighting, Gallant also has a security camera and locks on his sheds. He recalled a time not too long ago when residents didn’t have to worry about locks on their property.
“Most of the stealing was going on, I guess, years ago. Yes, they stole from certain people, but I never had a problem. I had my sheds unlocked, but I went and bought locks since,” said Gallant, who was advised to do so by the RCMP.
Gallant said that to reduce crime in the area, residents need to change how they view it and the police.
“When they cracked down on it before, people were screaming harassment. I read it on the social media, on Facebook. People were complaining that they had confiscated stuff and that they were on the railroad bed, they didn’t think the police officers should be patrolling the rail bed. Well that’s where a lot of the ones are to with the quads and they’re drinking, and they’re impaired, and it’s the place for the police. That’s all I have to say.”
Gallant said that if the individual had simply asked him for a can of gas, he would have been happy to help.
“I would have given him a can of gas. Because it was only about a month after that a couple of people came by from Norris Arm, and they drove by and they saw all the wood I got here,” said Gallant. “I gave them a can of gas, and they were going to Port aux Basques, actually, from Norris Point somewhere, and they dropped me back the can of gas when they went back on Sunday.”
The RCMP has stated that they have not noticed an increase in the number of small thefts, and that the need for policing resources has not changed recently. Additionally, while they do not have any programs that work to combat crime endemic to a community, they do try to deter crime by keeping the public informed of the potential consequences for offenders.
“The RCMP has no such programs in the general deterrence of criminal behaviour but does educate the public through various communications on crimes that occur and the penalties associated with those crimes throughout the province,” said Jolene Garland, Media Relations Officer.
Garland also advised that residents can help keep their property safe by ensuring valuable items are secured, their vehicles and homes are locked, and to consider using surveillance equipment and install additional lighting on the property, just as Gallant has done.
“Those who plan to be away from the home for extended periods should have a person check on the property during their absence. RCMP encourages the public to report crimes and suspicious activities within their communities.”