We're not vigilantes, members of theft-exposing Facebook group say after warning from RCMP

·4 min read
Administrator Jason Reynen says members of Clean Streets Penticton aren't vigilantes, and they don't use violence while trying to retrieve stolen property. (Jason Reynen/Facebook - image credit)
Administrator Jason Reynen says members of Clean Streets Penticton aren't vigilantes, and they don't use violence while trying to retrieve stolen property. (Jason Reynen/Facebook - image credit)

A growing number of residents in the South Okanagan have joined a social media group to share information about stolen property and suspected thieves, but local Mounties say what they're doing is wrong and could put their personal safety at risk.

In a news release on Tuesday, RCMP in Penticton, B.C., said they had been made aware of discussions on Clean Streets Penticton — a private Facebook group established in April that now has more than 2,700 members — about how neighbours could get back stolen items without police intervention.

While police said they understand frustration with property crimes, they also emphasized that legal procedures have to be followed to lay criminal charges, and discouraged people from interacting with suspects in an attempt to retrieve their property.

"The provocation of violence may result in serious injuries or other crimes, which further limit our detachment's limited resources," the release said.

"We cannot condone vigilante-type activities if we are to move toward lasting solutions [to property crimes]."

Clean Streets Penticton/Facebook
Clean Streets Penticton/Facebook

'These are very good citizens'

Penticton has notably high crime rates compared to other Okanagan cities. According to the latest provincial data, it recorded 186.5 Criminal Code offences per 1,000 residents in 2020, a considerably greater number than Kelowna (114.1), West Kelowna (61.8), Vernon (129.9) and Osoyoos (83.6).

Last February, Penticton RCMP Supt. Brian Hunter said his force's workload was 170 criminal cases per officer in 2019, compared to the provincial average of 71.

Clean Streets Penticton administrator Jason Reynen says his group members aren't vigilantes.

He says they're like-minded people who help each other to keep their community safe by sharing photos, videos and other details of suspected thieves to track down stolen property without resorting to violence, and escorting people to their stolen property so that they feel safe to reclaim it.

"These are fathers, wives, husbands … these are business owners," he said. "These are very good citizens who pay taxes and do the right thing all the time."

Reynen, a crossfit trainer and a car repair shop owner in downtown Penticton, says he has lost $25,000 worth of goods stolen and damage done to his property over the past five years.

He says the Facebook group's membership has grown rapidly since a regional media outlet published a story about him on Sunday, in which he said he had been able to track down some of his personal property with the group's help.

Last Wednesday he said he found out who had stolen his bike and asked the thief to bring it down to his shop for a monetary reward.

"When it came to the payment end of it, I said, 'Unfortunately, I'm not going to pay you for something that I had already bought,' he said.

"Obviously [he's] being a little bit upset about that, but at the same point, I'm not about to be extorted on an item that I rightfully own," he said, adding there was ultimately no physical confrontation with the thief.

Concerns about violence

Group member Sharon Brown says crime has been getting worse across the city. Last August, she was injured after a fight with two men who broke into her ice-cream shop downtown and stole money from the till.

Brown says she joined the group to show her support because Penticton isn't safe anymore.

"I can't blame the police — we only have so many," she said on CBC's Daybreak South. "This group is trying to do the right thing. They're not violent."

Ogo's Ice Cream & Food/Facebook
Ogo's Ice Cream & Food/Facebook

But Desiree Surowski, the co-founder of Penticton and Area Overdose Prevention Society, says regardless of how well intentioned the Facebook group is, she fears some members might eventually become violent against thieves, some of whom might be people living with homelessness and addiction.

"They're directing their anger at the wrong people," Surowski said. "If you're mad about a situation in your community, you should direct that kind of anger or that passion toward people who can do something to fix it."

Reynen says he and other group members are planning to meet RCMP officers this week to discuss repeat offenders, and promise to work with nonprofits that are providing treatment for people living with addiction.

He says the group's purpose is not to create division but "to make this city beautiful again."

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