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Police chief preaches vigilance

Police chief preaches vigilance
Acting police chief Jeff Rowden speaks at Arthur Pechey Public School on Friday during the second of four city neighbourhood meetings. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Prince Albert’s interim police chief is encouraging residents to take a few extra precautions to combat an increase in vehicle thefts.

Through February, Prince Albert is on pace for even more thefts in 2018 than the roughly 370 that occurred in the city last year.

Acting chief Jeff Rowden said it’s a baffling development for the city, considering how many police services across the province have run awareness campaigns.

“It’s puzzling,” he said during an interview on Friday. “I’ll be honest with you, there is a lot of public education around the subject, especially now. These vehicles that are being stolen, it’s a crime of opportunity.”

Rowden’s main concern lies with residents who leave spare sets of keys in their cars, only for thieves to come by, break-in and take off with the vehicle. However, that’s not the only problem. Residents who leave their vehicles unlocked and running during the winter are also easy targets for crimes of opportunity, and the stats show the problem is only increasing. He’s encouraging all residents to stop both practices in an effort to clamp down on what he calls “crimes of opportunity.”

“It’s something that’s easily achieved because if the car is running with the doors unlocked, somebody jumps in and within seconds it can be gone,” he said.

According to the Prince Albert Police Service year-end crime statistics, there were 326 reports of stolen vehicles in 2016. That number jumped to 372 in 2017. In January 2018 there were 42 vehicles reported stolen in Prince Albert, well above the 25 thefts in January 2017.

The thefts are bad enough, but the problem often compounds itself further since stolen vehicles are often used in other crimes.

“They’re not just used for the purpose of transportation,” Rowden explained. “They’re used to facilitate the commission of other offences as well, and that’s where we see real issues.”

Rowden added that stolen vehicles aren’t just a Prince Albert problem. According to SGI, vehicle thefts in Saskatchewan surged from 3,034 in 2015 to 3,819 in 2016. The number dropped off slightly in 2017, when 3,735 vehicle theft claims within the province were filed, however, the problem is still a long way from being solved.

“We do encourage vehicle owners to definitely not leave their keys in or near the vehicle,” SGI spokesperson Tyler McMurchy said. “That’s the best thing you can do to make a thief’s job a lot harder. There are also things like The Club or other anti-theft devices (or) parking in a garage or well-lit area; anything you can do to discourage theft.”

Although Rowden has concerns about vehicle theft in Prince Albert, he’s optimistic things are going to improve. He’s attended the last two neighbourhood meetings to let people know about the problem, and plans to bring the same presentation to the next two on March 20 and 21.

Rowden said that they’ve tried to be more visible in the community following feedback from neighbourhood meetings in 2017. However, when it comes to comes to vehicles, it’s easier to stop thefts before they start rather than chase the thieves down afterwards.

“It’s the same with wearing seatbelts. Nobody used to wear seatbelts years ago. They didn’t see the need,” Rowden said. “Now, with public education and engagement, people recognize that it’s a risk, and I think the same thing is going to prove to be helpful with stolen vehicles.”