Esquimalt can reduce the level of crime in its neighbourhoods and improve its reputation as a safe place to live, if the community works together.
Achieving that level of co-operation is among the goals of an initiative spearheaded by the Victoria Police Department’s West Division in partnership with volunteers from Esquimalt’s Block Watch, a community-based crime prevention program.
Increasing Block Watch programs along Esquimalt Road is among the strategies for achieving that goal.
“We want to increase the (Block Watch) presence there and in doing so, improve the image of Esquimalt,” says Insp. Keith Lindner, the top cop in the township for the past year.
What quickly became apparent to him upon his arrival was the high level of public involvement there, pointing to Buccaneer Days and the centennial celebrations in 2012 as examples.
“Instead of trying to decrease or eliminate a negative perception, well let’s build on what they do very well,” Lindner says. “And what Esquimalt does very well is it participates, it has a community, it is a community and it cares.”
Talks aimed at increasing the presence of Block Watch along the corridor have begun between the police and various community groups including the Esquimalt Residents Association and the Esquimalt Chamber of Commerce. The goal is work co-operatively to reduce crime along the township’s central business corridor.
Although Block Watch has traditionally been a residential program, the concept of neighbours helping neighbours still applies, Lindner says.
“The approach that we’re going to take is a residence is no different than a multi-family dwelling or a business. If there’s people there at some point during the day, they can be Block Watch members.”
A majority of residential neighbourhoods in Esquimalt are already under the program, says Bev Stewart, Block Watch co-ordinator with VicPD.
Bringing together business and homeowners is a new idea that could act as a template for use in other areas of Victoria and Esquimalt. The first step to becoming a proactive community is to increase communication between neighbours, Stewart says.
“It creates good spirit, it increases personal safety and raises awareness (about crime prevention)” she says. “Where people are proactive, crime will go down.”
Lindner admits the mix of business and residential properties along Esquimalt Road could be a challenge in itself. But a combined effort between community members is more efficient and sustainable in the long run, he says. “The more people you have pushing or pulling in the same direction, the more effective you’re going to be.”
The sentiment is echoed by Bruce Cuthbert, a Block Watch co-captain in the Saxe Point neighbourhood, where he has lived for 30 years.
“We’re all people of Esquimalt, whether we’re residents or in business – some people are both,” he says. “Keeping the message consistent so that everyone is working together on a common goal (is important).”
A common misconception is that being a Block Watch member requires a lot of effort, Cuthbert says.
“It doesn’t take much to be a part of Block Watch. It’s really getting to know your neighbours, putting a decal up in the window, being a little bit more vigilant, and just helping to keep your community be safer, healthier, more vibrant.”