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EDITORIAL – Is vigilantism the answer to stopping theft on our streets?

(Image: CFJC Today)

An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.

VIGILANTISM IS COMING to the streets of B.C. cities. First Penticton, now Kelowna. Will Kamloops be next?

The Penticton group is called Clean Streets Penticton, and consists of a group of people who go looking for stolen items in homeless encampments and shelters. It has more than 2,000 members on its Facebook page, though typically only a dozen or so go looking for the items suspected of being stolen by street-entrenched people.

When they see a bike, power tools or other expensive items that a street person wouldn’t normally be expected to have, they demand the stuff back. The idea is to look for things that have already been reported stolen, but they sometimes pick up items that haven’t been reported.

If the owner can’t be found, the item is donated elsewhere. According to the founder, the rate of success is pretty good.

So, there’s now a group called Take Back Kelowna. It’s only been going a few days but it already has a few hundred Facebook followers.

Such an approach feels tempting to many who are fed up with petty property crimes in which goods disappear and are never recovered through normal police channels. The Penticton group is said to have received inquiries from Kamloops about how to set up a version of it here.

It all sounds good, on the surface. Law-abiding people taking back their streets and all. But it’s fraught with danger. At some point, it’s almost inevitable that violence will result.

Obviously, police don’t like the vigilante approach, and have urged citizens not to take the law into their own hands. And this is, indeed, vigilantism, which is defined as “law enforcement undertaken without authority by a self-appointed group of people.”

Don’t confuse these new groups with police-sanctioned citizen patrols that act as eyes and ears, not as enforcement.

As frustrated as people are with street crime, Kamloops should reject the vigilante approach out of hand.

I’m Mel Rothenburger the Armchair Mayor.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at mrothenburger@armchairmayor.ca.

About Mel Rothenburger (9054 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

2 Comments on EDITORIAL – Is vigilantism the answer to stopping theft on our streets?

  1. R A George // July 25, 2022 at 8:30 PM // Reply

    I;m afraid Mel that Joe is dead right.

  2. Yes, vigilantism should be rejected.
    However, Mel, you should perhaps be a little more forthright about items not being recovered through normal channels. We have had many confirmed instances where they police flatly refuse to investigate or follow up any thefts below $5,000. That leaves a huge number of thefts unresolved, un-investigated and victims disappointed in the current system. Instead of only urging us not to follow the vigilante route, also urge local government and the police to solve the problem. We’re losing businesses and residents to this permitted anti-social behaviour and leaving many hesitant to venture to our downtown centres.

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