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Breaking Point: Downtown Chilliwack victims of property crime turn to social media

A downtown Chilliwack homeowner fires a paintball gun at an alleged thief riding away on a bike in a video posted to YouTube. - YouTube still
A downtown Chilliwack homeowner fires a paintball gun at an alleged thief riding away on a bike in a video posted to YouTube.
— image credit: YouTube still

It’s just before dawn and a hooded man opens the gate to Rob and Nicole Iezzi’s backyard deck in a neighbourhood just east of downtown Chilliwack.

He tiptoes past the barbecue and the patio chairs just steps from the couple’s back door.

The man is there to steal.

Not a bike or power tools or, really, anything of much value. He’s there to steal cigarette butts from their outdoor ashtray, and anything else he finds laying around.

“Over the course of about seven months this fellow kept coming back,” Nicole told the Times. “Sometimes he goes over our neighbour’s fence. He has gone into other people’s yards and rummaged through their sheds.”

Exasperated by the constant petty thieving, worried about their equipment for their landscaping company, and confused about the cigarette butts going missing, the Iezzis installed not one, not two but eight surveillance cameras around their property. And they’ve been posting short videos of the returning butt thief onto YouTube for months.

In one video, they even went after the guy with paintball guns as he took off on his bike.

Christine Carnrite knows all about cigarette butt thieves who jump fences and grab whatever they can. She’s had a similar thief visiting her property for some time.

And, like the Iezzis, she has security cameras. On Sunday night, it happened again. She called the RCMP Monday morning and while an officer was at her house looking at security tapes, the thief rode by on a bike.

“I called out ‘that’s him’ and the officer was off like a lightning bolt behind him,” Carnrite wrote on Facebook.

She told the Times her returning thief is not the same guy as the Iezzis’ and despite being caught by a stroke of luck by police, he wasn’t charged.

“No, sadly not arrested but fair warned and labelled officially a suspect according to the officer,” she said. “And told if he trespassed on my property again he’d be arrested and charged. He didn’t deny jumping my fence, he totally admitted it that he was looking for smoke butts.”

Petty theft, property crime and vehicle break-ins are a real problem in Chilliwack, particularly downtown.

Last week Chilliwack RCMP issued a press release with hotspots for vehicle thefts. The areas included Woodbine and Hazel streets north of First Avenue, and a large area between Wellington to the north, Bernard to the south, Young to the east and the Landing are to the west.

The first two months of 2014 saw a 25 per cent increase in thefts from vehicles from 166 in 2013 to 208 this year.

For their part, the Iezzis feel frustrated with the property crime situation in their neighbourhood and the fact that the same thieves keeping doing it with few repercussions.

Postings about break-ins and theft on the Facebook group Beware You Need to Know are near constant. Nicole doesn’t think either her cameras or posting on social media is really helping or acting as a deterrent, but at least it’s creating a conversation.

“It’ a form of public shaming,” she said. “I understand it’s a bit like bullying, putting it up online, but there are no names. . . . You just try and vent a little and maybe somebody will be able to recognize him.”

Another video they posted online from a security camera aimed at their driveway showed a a guy walk by their visiting friend’s pickup truck, open the unlocked door and steal the woman’s purse.

“She lost all her ID, her passport and her new cellphone,” Nicole said.

“There is no justice unless you are a criminal. You have no rights as a citizen until you break the law.

“They don’t go to jail. They don’t get a fine. Jail doesn’t help the problem anyway.”

The Iezzis lock their doors, have solid fences, installed surveillance cameras and, on one occasion, even shot at a bike-riding thief with paintball guns.

“What more can we do,” Nicole said. “I can’t affect solutions. We are ineffectual.”

But there is more that residents can and should do, according to Sabine Mendez, the co-ordinator for Chilliwack Healthier Community (CHC).

CHC hosted a public safety workshop on May 28 and have two more planned for June 25 and July 30. The events sprang out of public forums held recently, which identified and prioritized community concerns in a number of areas.

The workshops are hosted by local RCMP community police officers. There are obvious tips such as lock your doors, leave valuables out of plain sight in vehicles, but a lot of things that people don’t think of. For example, it’s important to record serial numbers of items that have them, and photograph and even engrave numbers on items that don’t. To that end, the Chilliwack Community Policing office has a free engraving tool that residents can borrow.

But one of the most important tools is what is called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). CPTED includes such things as fencing, deadbolts, alarms, window locks and proper lighting. But also examining landscaping to ensure unobstructed views with good visibility.

“Allow good people to see into areas and make bad people to feel they will be seen.”

For the Iezzis, these things are all well and good, but the public safety tips feel a little like blaming the victims.

“They [thieves] have all the rights,” Nicole said. “They have all the support. They have permission and we do not. We are told you should have locked your door, you shouldn’t have stuff. We are told you should leave your cigarette butts on the other side of the fence so he doesn’t feel the need to clean them out.

“Or we are told, you should move. But who’s going to buy our place?”

• CHC’s next public safety workshop is June 25 in Sardis, at the Pacific Region Training Centre, and then again on July 30 at the Yarrow Community Centre, which will also be accompanied by a BBQ competition. For more information on the public-safety workshops, contact the CHC co-ordinator Sabine Mendez at coordinator@healthierchilliwack.ca or phone 604-703-8096.

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