When a community sleeps with one eye open, criminals may want to leave their sight altogether.
Sturgeon Beach is a Tay residential area of approximately 55 homes, and as of this week four new community watch signs have been added to the street corners for declaration and information purposes.
The streets of Duffy Drive, Hearthstone Drive, Playfair Drive, Delta Drive and Rainbow Lane received the signs at an implementation celebration attended by members of the OPP, the mayor, members of Tay council and staff, and members of the public.
Dave Wark is the community watch lead who took the initiative after visible drug use and abuse infiltrated the neighbourhood.
“When you physically wake up one morning and suddenly realize that your whole neighbourhood is being travelled by drug transients, drug dealers, taxi cabs fifteen times a day to a house, people looking for certain homes hammering on doors and windows at three in the morning; yes, we have a problem,” the 73-year-old resident said.
In early August, as the Southern Georgian Bay (SGB) detachment of the OPP were patrolling the area, COVID-aware meetings began in the area to train residents on how to use the community watch program, of which 40 of the roughly 55 homes participated.
“We’ve been kept quite busy,” said Wark, “but with the town’s cooperation, the OPP community watch, Crime Stoppers… we now have the problem 80% solved and we’re on the winning side.”
Sgt. Avery Bassett, OPP community safety services officer, played a large role in helping Wark and the residents of Sturgeon Bay with the community watch program.
“If we can get the community themselves -- the members here -- to be on alert and keep an eye out and help be the eyes and ears for the OPP, it will help do wonders,” said Bassett.
Each street has a road captain who members of the community can contact if they see something out of order. Through that road captain, precise information is conveyed to the police.
However, the OPP do not advise participants of a community watch to be anything further than be the ears and eyes for several reasons.
“No vigilantism,” affirmed Bassett. “We don’t want anybody taking anything into their own hands.
“Depending on how we set it up, they get a little bit of training, and we are very clear that they are just out there to see what’s going on."
Furthermore, the OPP could have an investigation compromised if residents of an engaged community watch happen to alert a target, setting the police back days or weeks in some instances. In other cases, the wrong information might send police off the trail.
Inspector Joseph Evans, detachment commander for the SGB OPP, echoed Bassett’s statement.
“Don’t put yourself in danger; that’s our job,” said Evans. “We’re trained to deal with this type of thing. We will come, we will take statements from you or if you don’t want to be known by the police then we have our TIPS (Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477) that you can call in and leave a tip, and potentially you can get paid for it if it does come before the courts.”
Evans also praised Const. Dave Hobson and Sgt. Jason Milne with the Tay community policing advisory committee for their assistance.
Long-time resident Bonnie Duffy expressed relief.
“Lately, things have been unusual with all the comings and goings that have happened, and the community came together via Dave to implement this community watch. And so far, things have been doing really well.”
Resident Fiona Stellato moved in two years ago, and appreciates the community watch.
“It makes it a little safer for my children; that way I don’t have to worry so much about them being at our private park, and (seeing) strange cars wandering through the neighbourhood.”
Politicians attending were Tay Mayor Ted Walker and Coun. Barry Norris to lend their support for the initiative.
“What we’re hoping for is that this will have a rebound effect,” Walker said. “And then other groups in other areas will join on and then join groups in their own respective neighbourhoods.”
With the problem in Sturgeon Beach being addressed and the weight spread over a community, Wark can said he would focus on retirement.
“Now it’s just making sure we don’t have an influx of the problem we had,” said Wark. “Keeping track -- we still have some little hiccups around here -- but on the whole, just enjoying life.”
For further information on OPP Community Safety Services, visit the OPP website page.
If you have any information about crime in our community please contact the OPP at 1-888-310-1122 or report minor occurrences online by visiting www.opp.ca/reporting. You can also call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or submit your information online at www.crimestopperssdm.com if you have any information on this crime or any other crime. Crime Stoppers does not subscribe to call display and you will remain anonymous. Being anonymous, you will not testify in court and your information may lead to a cash reward of up to $2,000.00.
Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca