By Mike Renzella
The Haldimand Press
DUNNVILLE—Broken windshields, sheds broken into, property damage – these are just some of the concerns of Dunnville residents in the wake of a string of crimes that have taken place on their property or in their neighbourhood.
“There has been an increase in thefts in Dunnville over the past several weeks. Two people were identified and were arrested and charged,” said Provincial Constable Rod LeClair, who went on to mention that he is still waiting to get some more details from investigators regarding the arrests. “Officers were aware of the increase and focused patrols of areas were in place. We continue to monitor.”
Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt pointed his frustration at the scrutiny that police officers are under right now, as well as the legal system.
“They are damned if they apply the law and they are damned if they don’t,” said Hewitt, adding how he feels staffing for the Haldimand police detachment is lower than what the County contract calls for. “The contract is a provincial formula. We get X amount of officers based on the number of households. Same for every municipality, and even if we wanted to pay for more the OPP will not allow it. On the other hand, if they did there still would not be enough officers out there.”
According to the mayor, Haldimand County currently has approximately 70% of the capacity of officers called for in the contract.
On his frustration with the legal system, Hewitt offered the following. “Crime issues go beyond just policing. Many of the law breakers we all know have been arrested and put in front of our courts. Our judges are letting these culprits out either because of COVID or because they are soft. Either way our court system needs to have more teeth to support our communities and the OPP as they arrest people.”
Dunnville Councillor Bernie Corbett echoed Hewitts’ frustration.
“As Chair of the Police Services Board, the issue we have is a lack of service availability. I in no way want to discredit the efforts of those we have on duty in our county. There is just not enough of them,” said Corbett, who mentioned that at times the number of available officers can drop as low as 60% of what is stipulated in the contract.
Corbett continued, “I am not pleased with the (police) service we get, and I find the process very frustrating. We contract the OPP and we have no say in operational matters. We have requested a meeting with the Solicitor General to register our complaints and request a resolve…. If that does not work I am contemplating breach of contract resolution. I am aware of the many complaints on Facebook about policing. It may be a place to air your beefs, but I say again take that extra step and register your complaints with the OPP. It adds credence to our plea.”
An online request from The Press for public input yielded several comments from residents with claims that include being afraid to walk outside after the sun goes down and being afraid to sit outside of their own homes at night. Below are some firsthand stories of crimes committed this summer in Dunnville.
“I had my tailgate stolen off my truck on August 20, right out my driveway,” said Ray Burton. “No one saw anything…. No one investigated or came to my house. There have been major and minor crimes all over town.”
“I had people go into my outbuilding on Broad Street (not visible from the road) about two months ago. Stole a television, Bluetooth speaker, and a skateboard. Police told me there had been five reported thefts from sheds in my immediate area the same weekend,” said Sybil Fletcher.
“It happened last night,” said a resident who wished to remain anonymous, describing how his car was broken into. “My vehicle door was left open. Some cash was taken and everything tossed around…. I think there needs to be something set up in the community where this comes to an end. We live in a small town and all look out for each other so this shouldn’t be happening for prolonged periods.”
“There are thefts, damage, and break-ins every single night. I have video of one of them trying to get into my car on two separate occasions. This has made me quite nervous, as I live alone. Every time I hear a motion notification from my cameras now, I am on edge and checking the live feed. There is not enough police presence; these thieves know that and are not worried about getting caught, as the courts will just let them back out on the street,” said Michelle Scott. “I sent an email to OPP Haldimand with the video footage; I have received no response from them. I understand the OPP are working the best that they can with resources provided. I don’t fault the OPP department for the lack of protection.”
Car windows smashed by a sledgehammer or large object is an issue reported by multiple residents across the town.
“Our neighbor had her windows smashed out with a sledgehammer two nights ago. Our other neighbour left her doors unlocked and her car was rummaged through. Also, cars outside of Girling Auto Body got ransacked as well. All on the same night on Maple Street,” said Christian Kai.
“They smashed the window out of my truck about four weeks ago on a Sunday morning at 7 a.m. in the daylight with someone telling them to stop and they just kept hitting the window until it broke, all for about four bucks in change,” added Steve Asher.
The words ‘neighbourhood watch’ have been mentioned by more than one Dunnville resident on social media. This has led to more than one attempt to get residents more involved in looking out for each other. Melissa Gagne spoke about the motive behind the online group Dunn-ville Take Charge, which she helped organize.
“The end plan is to have an active neighbourhood watch in town, but at the moment the group’s purpose is for sharing information and suspicious activities and crimes when they happen,” said Gagne. “It’s getting bad and scary. A few people I know now drive around town at night to keep an eye on the town themselves.”
Both LeClair and Hewitt had advice for handling the concerning rise in crime in Dunnville.
“Anyone who notices any suspicious activity, persons, or vehicles should call police. Residents should keep garages, sheds, homes, and vehicles locked. Many of these thefts were to insecure properties,” said LeClair.
“I encourage those of you who are frustrated to let our Provincial member know as well so pressure can be applied to the Attorney General who can set better expectations on our judicial system,” said Hewitt.