A Trail-area man says he started up an anti-crime page on social media to try to make the world a better place.
But he’s finding keeping the newly-created community in line a real challenge.
The man, who goes by the alias of Scarborough Trowell, started the Facebook page Kootenay Crime Watch about two weeks ago.
He must have hit a nerve when he did. From just an idea one day, Crime Watch Kootenays has had 1,064 members join the group.
“It was a bit surprising how quickly it grew because I was not expecting that,” says Trowell. He says from drugs to petty crime, people were looking for a way to combat problems in their neighbourhoods.
“There’s lots of things being reported on the ‘ranting and raving’ sites, but the information is everywhere,” he says. “I wanted to make it so there was a central location, people can go on there and say ‘Look, be careful we found some needles in Gyro Park, or on the walking trails under bridge.’
“That’s the whole idea behind Kootenay Crime Watch.”
Members of the Crime Watch page have taken that to heart. There are posts on the site about break-and-enters, thefts, and assaults occurring in neighbourhoods. A stranger walking through through neighbourhoods generates a warning.
“Anyone in Raspberry Village, [I] just called the police about someone taking a long stroll in the neighborhood, looking into people’s yards, and my garage,” said one poster.
There are posts about pro-active initiatives as well. One person shared the agenda for an upcoming Trail council meeting, to encourage citizens to attend to lobby for a new Neighbourhood Watch. Warnings are posted about phone scams, or contact information for police and emergency services. The head of a local branch of Crime Stoppers makes a plea for new board members.
And in fact, Trowell says, the page has already had a success, when police arrested thieves who had taken a security camera. Photos of the theft — taken by the camera — were forwarded to police.
“I am hoping that this sort of information becomes a useful tool for the RCMP,” says Trowell. “I still go down the streets and see bikes in front yards at 9 at night, or ladders against the house not locked up.
“This isn’t Pleasantville, this is reality and there are people who will take advantage of you.”
But crime is also an emotional subject. Victims of crime are often angry and looking for justice — or revenge — for themselves or friends. And they often vent their feelings on Kootenay Crime Watch.
“…local Salmo thief and low life…” says one post, accompanying a picture of a man. “Charges pending after he and fellow thief made off with clothing and firefighting equipment!!!! How despicable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
“Busted casing our house last night… 3:40 am… [a suspect] and 2 guys… don’t come back or you will regret it…” warns another post.
“…My Suzuki Esteem wagon was broken into at the Brilliant park and ride. The POS thieves got all my drills batteries charger and all my bits! Please everyone be on the lookout… I hope the money you thieves receive from that sale will provide you with all the fentanyl filled drugs you CAN’T handle.”
Trowell says he’s been a little taken aback by the emotions that pour out onto the page.
“I wasn’t expecting as much mud-slinging as had occurred, and that is regrettable,” says Trowell. “And I apologize to anyone hurt by the mud-slinging. Steps will be taken to always protect people’s privacy.”
Trowell says the amount of material being posted — much of it problematic — has prompted him to appoint several people to act as moderators or administrators to the site, to oversee the often inflammatory, and sometimes libellous, comments.
“You feel like you are a parent between the kids fighting,” he says of moderating the page. “You have to help guide all the members and help promote civility, being respectful to each other.
“That’s why I keep reinforcing we are not a vigilante group, we are here to be a group of positivity of action, not one of dirt and mud-slinging.
“People still deserve to be treated with respect though they may be on the darker side of the spectrum of society. They not the dirt under our shoes so to speak they are still people, if misguided they may be.
“If we treat them like dirt we are just going to reinforce that habit in them and they are going to become that much worse.”
Trowell’s had to delete threads that have gone too far, and ban members who went over the line. He takes it in stride.
“Things might slip by and if they do I sincerely apologize to people who might be hurt by them,” he says. “If there is something on the page, all a person has to do is send a message to any of the admins or moderators and they will look at it right away.”
An RCMP officer from Castlegar/Trail says he hasn’t seen the Facebook page. But Sgt. Darren Oelke says with proper oversight and monitoring, crime-watching pages like Trowell’s can be a public good.
“There are some positive aspects to it, if it’s used in the right way,” he says. “We don’t want it to turn into a ‘ranting and raving’ kind of a page, I don’t think that’s a benefit for anybody… but it can be a good tool for us as well, to get a message out there or even ultimately solve some crimes.”
Crime is actually down in BC in many areas, including violent and non-violent crime and drug offences (property crimes were up about two per cent) in 2016, according to provincial government statistics. You wouldn’t think so reading Kootenay Crime Watch. But Trowell doesn’t think that the page gives a distorted view of the crime scene in the Kootenays. He said just raising awareness can do good.
“It’s the same thing about forest fires. When we are [discussing] all these fires, are we creating too much worry? Or are people being more cautious about cigarette smoking, or cautious about safety of their homes in interface areas?
“I think knowledge and information gives power to the individuals and prepare and be precautionary.”
Based mostly in Trail and area right now, Trowell says people have joined the group from Castlegar, Nelson, the Lower Mainland, and even Alberta. He’s not sure where the site may find itself in a month or a year, but he has a clear view of what he hopes to accomplish.
“We’re a community and only as strong as our weakest part , and we have to come together not only just for crime but in all aspects, like picking up garbage, or if you see a neighbour has fallen down, you help them up. But let’s be there for each other.”