Penticton RCMP Superintendent Ted De Jager said the B&E crime spree plaguing the city is not unprecedented, and that his officers have an idea who may be involved in some of the incidents. (Western News file photo)

Penticton RCMP narrowing down on B&E suspects

Supt. De Jager said officers have suspects in mind, crime spree not unprecedented

Penticton is currently seeing an upswing in property crime, with numerous businesses the victims of overnight break and enters, but Supt. Ted De Jager said this is not unprecedented.

“This time of year it’s actually quite common that we get a lot of break and enters, we had the same series last year. As the weather starts getting better, businesses are gearing up for the summer and local prolifics are much more able to manoeuvre,” said De Jager. “People are out on the street more and they’re able to blend in. So it’s not uncommon to see this.”

De Jager said while his team is relatively sure of the identity of at least two individuals involved in multiple recent break and enters, they cannot release identities until they have confirmation. He said the challenge his officers and the Targeted Enforcement Unit are facing is locating these individuals, as they often hide out at different places during the day.

READ ALSO: Another Penticton business broken into

“We know who generally is doing these break and enters, but to say they are related would be a bit of a stretch at this point until we can actually catch them and interview them,” said De Jager. “In most cases, these are targets of opportunity that they’re looking for. The best way to say it is that we have a day job and at night we’re sleeping, (and) they’re the opposite. They’re all in bed during the day, getting ready for their night job, which is crime.”

De Jager said he doesn’t like to call the individuals committing these crimes organized or sophisticated, as he does not think they are working as a team but “have nothing but time.” He explained that the individuals they believe to be involved in at least some of the break and enters are prolific offenders who choose to make a living this way, not necessarily people down on their luck trying to get by.

Mayor John Vassilaki agrees with De Jager’s assessment that these are career criminals, and said he meets with the RCMP frequently to get updates on the ongoing investigations and find out how the city can assist. Vassilaki, owner of the Tiffany’s Boutique Mall on Main Street, has also been a victim of overnight break and enters recently, with thieves gaining access to the mall repeatedly over the span of one week.

READ ALSO: Stolen generator from Penticton restaurant recovered

“There’s a lot of them that are prolific bag guys, and a lot of them are professional lock pickers. They break in without even making a mark on the door, and we know that because they can’t lock it on the way out, so it’s left open,” said Vassilaki.

According to Vikki Holmberg, co-owner of TechSavers Computer Repair located within the mall, thieves gained access to their store on the evenings of April 27 and 28, and the rest of the mall on the evenings April 27 to May 1.

“The first night, the lock was picked. The second night he brought a buddy to clean us out,” said Holmberg, who took to social media following the break-ins to share her frustrations and concerns.

Both Vassilaki and the Holmbergs upgraded their business’s security systems since then, which De Jager said is the best defence right now. De Jager did note that it can be a hardship for business owners to incur the costs of building repairs as a result of break and enters, not to mention the expense of high-tech security systems, but said it’s a matter of finding balance.

“We call it target hardening, but it’s the defences of the building itself. (In some of the recent cases) the ones that had closed-circuit video equipment or high-definition cameras or alarm systems, we have a very good idea of who was involved in that,” said De Jager. “The ones that are lower tech, that don’t have an alarm, and the crime was discovered when the person came to work the next morning, those ones we have lesser success. But we do fingerprint and do things like that.”

READ ALSO: Three thefts in three days at Penticton café

De Jager also said it’s important for business owners and residents to call in anything suspicious or any criminal activity, even if they believe it to be a minor offence. He said this helps his officers “bring these criminals to court.”

“That’s why it’s so important for people to call. Sometimes business owners think ‘Well I didn’t lose anything, I don’t want to waste the police’s time.’ So imagine if we have members doing patrols and see someone and do a street check, so what is he doing there and his name, all of the information. They don’t find anything wrong, he doesn’t have break-in tools so off he goes,” said De Jager. “Then the next day we hear about break and enters by someone that match this person. So now he have a suspect, by those people calling us despite their inclination not to bother us, and even if we can’t get him for that crime, now we know who we’re looking for.”

De Jager said the RCMP is “really trying to get our neighbourhoods involved in Block Watch and our businesses with Business Watch” which is “the same program, just different structure.” He said this can be a great deterrent against nighttime criminal activity, but warns that there is a line between this and vigilante justice.

READ ALSO: Recent break-in leaves Penticton business owner frustrated

“In a large percentage of vigilante cases, they get the wrong guy so now they’re really in trouble. And it’s because of stereotypes. And the other part is it is almost impossible to get it in court,” said De Jager. “So now we’re really focusing on the damage that you’ve done on this individual. It’s not society’s job to do that, it’s the judicial system. If you don’t agree with the system, then you need to take steps through the legal process to deal with that.”

Currently a petition is being circulated by Chrystina Barnard, the owner of Lucky’s Pet Supply and yet another victim of a recent break and enter and theft, titled Make Penticton Safe Again. Garnering 550 signatures in just three days, the petition asks to redesignate $50,000 slated by the City of Penticton to replace the Christmas lights in order to upgrade security in the downtown and install public security cameras.

To report a typo, email: editor@pentictonwesternnews.com.

Jordyn Thomson | Reporter
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