East London group launches community patrols to deter break-ins

·3 min read

A councillor who represents a ward in east London is working with police to address perceptions of a rise in break-ins and thefts in some neighbourhoods as one residents' group makes plans to take matters into their own hands.

Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis met Tuesday with London police to discuss increasing their presence in some “hot spot” neighbourhoods and encourage greater reporting of incidents by residents.

“This was all spurred by the fact that I was hearing growing frustration from residents about the perception of an increased amount of criminal activity in the area,” he said. “I get the neighbours' frustration because it's my neighbourhood, too. It has happened to me, my friends, my family.”

The meeting between Lewis and police comes as a group calling itself the East London Community Watch is launching a drive-by neighbourhood patrol in an attempt to curb crime.

In flyers distributed in areas east of Adelaide and in a Facebook group called the East London Ontario Community Watch, the patrol is vowing to “help keep our streets safer” by taking a hands-off approach, surveilling and reporting incidents to London police.

The community patrol was launched by Janette Cameron, who has lived in east London for 20 years.

She said she’s noticed an increase in car break-ins, backyard theft and people checking houses for unlocked doors.

“The issue is getting worse, it's not getting better,” Cameron said. “People are sick of it. They don’t know what else to do.”

Patrols will be done in pairs, Cameron said, with volunteers using their own vehicles and never leaving them.

She hopes the increased presence at night will help deter attempted break-ins and thefts.

An online forum, LondonWatch.ca, also has been created to co-ordinate patrols and share information.

But the mother of two admits the grassroots patrol is merely a Band-Aid solution and is aiming to raise awareness of the systemic issues that lead to crime, such as homelessness, mental health issues and addiction.

“We need to help each other,” Cameron said. “We are advocating for these people. We see that they’re struggling; we see their pain.”

Cameron also is pushing for London police to allocate more resources to areas of the city with higher crime rates, and for police to come together with city staff, mental health and addiction service providers and local residents to devise better ways to reduce neighbourhood crime.

Const. Sandasha Bough, a spokesperson for London police, said the service does not condone vigilante behaviour.

“Police officers are trained to de-escalate and deal with any type of situation they are faced with, and citizens could put themselves into a potentially dangerous situation if they try to get involved,” she said in an email.

Though Bough said police “welcome extra sets of eyes in the community,” they’re urging individuals to report criminal activity to the police’s non-emergency phone line.

It’s a sentiment echoed by Lewis.

“We both are quite concerned about any sort of vigilantism taking root,” he said. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to do a neighbourhood watch.”

Lewis said he’s pushing for greater police visibility in residential areas and small side streets in a bid to dissuade break-ins.

“It’s really helpful if you (the police) patrol ... Don’t just stick to the main arteries, get into the neighbourhoods where these things are happening,” he said.

When COVID-19 lockdowns end, Lewis said auxiliary officers and civilian members could be utilized to increase visibility in the area without tying up officers.

He also stressed the importance of residents reporting any thefts, break-ins or suspicious activity to police and is urging people to follow security measures, like keeping doors and sheds locked and not storing valuables in cars.

For Cameron, a self-described "fearless leader" and community advocate, the patrol is simply a last resort.

“I’m putting countless hours into this, people-watching, just so I can sleep a little bit sounder at night,” she said. “It’s sad.”


Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press