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Whistler RCMP target theft at trailheads

Police seeing increase in incidents involving vehicles at Sea to Sky-area parks

In response to a recent hike in property crime, Whistler RCMP are launching an enforcement program aimed at curbing the incidence of theft, especially from vehicles parked at area trailheads and in resort day lots.

"We've had an increase in property crime in our areas that's been noticed by us over the last short while," said Whistler RCMP Sgt. Rob Knapton. "We realize we've been having a bunch of vehicle thefts from a lot of the trailheads; as well, we've been getting some in the day lots, so we discussed an initiative last week and we'll be taking additional actions in this area."

Knapton did not want to reveal too many details about the program for fear of tipping off prospective thieves to the RCMP's strategy, but said officers are looking at a variety of options and are specifically working on identifying some of the people thought to be involved in the thefts.

Whistler RCMP have received 24 reports of theft from vehicles since April 1, Knapton said. Included in those reports were complaints of theft from trailheads at Callaghan Creek, Wedge, and from cars parked on forest service roads.

Knapton also said there have been a number of reports of theft at trailheads in Squamish. The RCMP detachment there has reported multiple incidents taking place at the Shannon Falls, Stawamus Chief and Alice Lake provincial parks as well.

A number of vehicle break-ins have also been reported at the Garibaldi Park trailhead parking at the trailhead for Red Heather and Elfin Lakes. Squamish RCMP have stepped up patrols at provincial park parking lots and have recently suggested that surveillance cameras might be another option.

The number of reports of theft can be misleading as well, according to Knapton, because a car that is broken into is only considered a theft if something was actually stolen.

"There will be a bunch of other (reports) that have been carded as mischief because (suspects) haven't actually taken anything," he said.

In a letter to Whistler council last week, Vancouver resident and regular resort visitor Gloria Zhang said she was aware of four vehicles that were broken into over one recent weekend at the Wedgemount Lake trailhead. In response, Coun. Jayson Faulkner, who also co-owns the Whistler Alpine Guides Bureau, said it's a problem he's seen impact the region for years.

"It's all through the corridor and it's endemic. I don't know what the solution is, but what I do know is whatever we're doing and have been doing for the last 20 years doesn't work. I think it's a real shame and it's something that goes unnoticed," he said.

Faulkner said he suggested to local RCMP in years past that officers camp out overnight at various trailheads in an effort to catch thieves in the act, a strategy that will be considered by police.

"That's one of the things that we may be looking at," Knapton said. "There are lots of different options, but as with everything there's a cost for each of those options and there's only so much budget allocation to deal with some of these things. We're evaluating those to see where we can get the biggest bang for our buck at the end of the day."

A crime analyst from Vancouver RCMP is tracking Whistler-area thefts to develop a predictive model to help curb recent criminal trends, said Knapton.

In January, B.C. RCMP expanded their provincial bait car program to include "bait property," meaning police are now able to track and monitor valuables that have been placed in a bait vehicle.

Since the original B.C. bait car program was launched in 2003, RCMP has reported a 73 per cent reduction in auto theft province-wide.

Knapton urged vehicle owners to remove valuables from their automobiles to help prevent theft.

"If you've parked your vehicle, whether it's in a day lot or in some of these trailheads, my suggestion is not to leave anything out that may indicate interest for thieves, because it makes an easy target," he said. "Even last year we had quite a few thefts from the day lots in Whistler and it was amazing the value of some of the items that were getting stolen. We're talking about laptops, cellphones, passports and tablets."

- With files from David Burke, The Chief