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Recent vandalism in Erin sparks online community watch

Erin residents are concerned about recent vandalism in the village. This downtown sign, for example, was set on fire on July 21. Submitted photo

Recent vandalism in Erin sparks online community watch

by Olivia Rutt

ERIN - Increasing reports of vandalism in Erin village have led community members to create an online community watch group and councillors to seek strategies to curb vandalism.

Smashed windows, road signs pulled out of the ground, street signs set on fire, garbages and picnic tables dumped on Main Street and large house parties are just some of the incidents that have left local residents upset.

“It’s ridiculous, it’s completely out of hand,” said Tracey Wallace, an administrator of the “Erin Community Watch” Facebook group.

It was started on Aug. 5 as a way for people to discuss what they’ve seen and to post photos of damage.

“The reason that we started it, was more of an awareness of what was going on, and how to, as citizens, help,” said Wallace.

Over the August long weekend, two large “out-of-control” house parties with about 200 attendees each took place in Erin village, said Wellington County OPP Inspector Scott Lawson.

He added “significant numbers of officers spent a significant amount of time” dealing with the parties.

“What ends up happening from those is when you have potential intoxication, you end up having other crimes being committed, potentially,” said Lawson.

Yet he noted vandalism issues are not unique to the village.

“Erin doesn’t have any more concerns in terms of vandalism than another municipality,” he said.

However, “when it happens repeatedly and when ... two large house parties got out of control, then you can draw a nexus there that there is a propensity for more things to happen criminally than there ought to have been.”

However, Wallace, who has lived in the community for decades, said vandalism was on the rise prior to the two parties.

“It’s out of the norm for Erin ... nothing like this has ever happened,” she said.

“We are literally on Main and Daniel (streets) afraid to go to sleep at night because we don’t know what we’re going to wake up to in the morning.”

The Facebook group has more than 200 members, which Wallace says “speaks volumes” about the community’s concern.

“It means that a lot of people are paying attention and they’re upset [with] the stuff in the community,” she said.

Wallace has been in contact with OPP officials, who have advised her to report all vandalism, big or small.

“I feel like the police are trying really hard to work with us now,” she said.

Police spent over 18,000 hours in the Town of Erin in 2016, said Lawson.

“That’s significant officer time spent in the Town of Erin,” he said.

But he admits police cannot be everywhere 24/7 and  encourages residents to report everything.

“In terms of vandalism, sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know,” he said.

Lawson is also reminding the public about the curfew for those 16 and under.

“Under the Family and Children Services Act, there is a provision that anybody under the age of 16 that’s out between midnight and six in the morning, we can take them to a place of safety because they shouldn’t be out without an adult with them during those hours,” he said.

Though Wallace has added posts on the Facebook group about a citizen’s power of arrest and community patrols, Lawson advises against that.

“I wouldn’t encourage the community in any fashion to take this on by themselves,” Lawson said.

Wallace said forming the group was “not a vigilantly move - it’s not one of those. It’s honestly a concern for the kids that are involved.”

 Council strategy

At the Aug. 8 meeting, councillor Matt Sammut raised a motion asking staff to determine a strategy to curb vandalism.

“This could include increased police presence, community watch programs, reinstatement of the cops committee, Crime Stoppers initiatives, hiring private security watch, etc.,” stated the motion.

Mayor Allan Alls asked, “Where in the hell were the people, the parents, in all of this?”

He said, “It’s disgusting that we have this kind of event going on in our town in the middle of the long weekend, where we have to have seven officers respond...

“I just don’t understand why you would let 150 to 200 teens in your house and you’re not there.”

Sammut agreed, but said “we can’t fix parents.”

“We’ve got to look at what can we control,” he said.

“The struggle is that this has been escalating, it’s not this past weekend. It happened on my property about a month ago.”

Sammut said he would like to see a proactive approach from the OPP.

“It’s seeing them driving down the street... that’s why I’m talking about the proactive nature about the OPP being in our community,” he said.

 Sammut added he’s heard complaints about police response times being too long.

“These are people that are upset, they are saying 45 minutes, an hour... I don’t know and to be honest, that’s not the issue. The issue is seeing their presence in the community,” he said.

Councillor Jeff Duncan said the town needs to think about programs that will engage youth, but also said there should be clear consequences for vandals.

“We should have a no-apology option,” he said.

“If you get caught for some of this stuff, writing a letter and saying how you’re going to go help out EWCS for 10 hours or something isn’t going to cut it.

“I think we should have some sort of thing that people know that there’s going to be consequences to what you do.”

Lawson will be attending a meeting with Erin council in September to discuss the issue. For now, he said police will continue to investigate incidents of vandalism and mischief.

“We’re going to keep doing what we do in terms of our investigations and urging the community to report these incidents to us so that we can try and get to the bottom of them,” Lawson said.

In an Aug. 11 open letter to Erin residents, Alls said the vandalism reflects badly on the town.

“Recently, the warm summer evenings have emboldened some within our community to commit acts of vandalism and disturb public peace,” he stated.

“These acts are not merely pranks. They negatively impact public safety and have a deleterious effect on how our town is perceived by residents, our neighbours, and even potential business investors.”

Alls asked for people to go to the police.

“I encourage residents to report crimes or suspicious activities to the OPP proactively, instead of merely referencing what took place afterwards on social media,” he stated.


August 11, 2017


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