Nelson Ruest is a Block Watch captain for his condo building along the Songhees walkway in Victoria West.

Block Watch program an effective tool for crime prevention

Whenever Bonnie Hardy takes her dog for a walk through her James Bay neighbourhood, she isn’t just out for a leisurly stroll.

Whenever Bonnie Hardy takes her dog for a walk through her James Bay neighbourhood, she isn’t just out for a leisurly stroll.

Being a Block Watch captain, she’s keeping an eye open for any suspicious activity in an effort to make sure her neighbourhood continues to be a safe place to live.

Several residents living on Government, Toronto, Heather, Powell and Michigan streets are now part of the Block Watch program. Hardy signed up two years ago and has noticed a reduction in crime.

“I remember one year (before Block Watch) on Government Street everybody’s tires were punctured. Someone just went through with a big knife,” said Hardy, who’s lived in the neighbourhood since 1997.

“We don’t see much of that anymore. We used to have street people coming down, but now there’s not.”

According to Victoria police, the Block Watch program is about neighbours helping neighbours. Households, apartments or condos on a block form a communication chain aided by a map of names, telephone numbers and addresses. Participants watch out for each others homes and report suspicious activities to the police and each other to reduce the likelihood of residential crime.

The program was initiated in Seattle in 1974, with participating homes seeing a 48 to 62 per cent decrease in residential break-ins. Surrey was the first municipality to start a Block Watch program in B.C. It has since spread throughout several communities across the province.

Roughly 10 to 12 years ago, the program started in Esquimalt, then was later introduced to Victoria residents as well. Now all neighborhoods in Victoria and Esquimalt are on board.

“The response was overwhelming. I am constantly getting emails and phone calls from people inquiring about Block Watch or how to join,” said Kimberly Kelley, community programs coordinator with the Victoria police.

“It brings neighbours together, so once people get out and start talking to one another it becomes a natural fit.”

Victoria police don’t track any stats for Block Watch crime trends, but Kelley said it’s an effective crime prevention tool and technique that makes people open their eyes, pay attention and question certain things that may be happening in their neighbourhood they may not otherwise be aware of.

About 85 per cent of residents living in a 90-unit condo along the Songhees walkway singed up for Block Watch last year.

According to Block Watch captain Nelson Ruest, some of the crime that happens downtown has now made its way into his neighbourhood, prompting residents to be more conscious about security.

A few weeks ago, an encampment was created on the banks of the water beside the building. Some Block Watch residents contacted police to make sure it didn’t become permanent.

“It just makes our environment more secure,” said Ruest. “It’s for us to have our neighbours more watchful, more careful. Even a simple thing like when you come into the garage and make sure you wait until its closed before you proceed just increases our level of safety.”