An unprecedented trend of wilful damage to vehicles continues to confound police and public alike.
For several weeks running, police have reported up to a dozen incidents of vandalism to cars every weekend. Part of their frustration is rooted in the point that there is often no obvious motive for the damage.
“There doesn’t seem to be any discernible pattern and we’re struggling with finding a reason for it,” Sgt. Kelly McLean said. “It’s a different situation if the majority of cases that we’re going to result in thefts, if people are missing things from their vehicle, if it’s small electronics, if it’s change, if it’s cigarettes. In some cases, that is what’s happening.
“But there are far more instances where it’s just the damages that are being caused, or it’s just a window being smashed … Sometimes we’ve been able to talk to complainants and we’re able to give them advice about making sure that those things are out of sight, try to park in better-lit areas. None of those criteria that we’re able to share with complainants in the past seem to be making a difference. We’re just experiencing wanton vandalism.”
Sometimes vandalism numbers are spiked by mass acts of damage, as in incidents when vandals have hit parking lots or car dealerships. The system of data collection has also changed in recent decades, allowing police to analyze statistical data and keep track of specific acts of vandalism more than ever.
However, the general pattern of the latest wave — replete with cases of people smashing windows and then moving on — is unlike anything Sgt. McLean has encountered in his 26 years on the force.
“I’m a little reluctant to say that it’s of historical proportions,” he said. “But I guess if you boil it right down to it, yeah, that’s kind of what we’re looking at. I don’t think in my experience, we’ve ever had such a steady stream of these things coming in as regularly as we have. I mean, we’re dealing with at least 10 of these things on a weekend, sometimes more on a regular basis, and it doesn’t seem to be affected seasonally, at least not yet. We’ve been dealing with this all year.”
I’m a little reluctant to say that it’s of historical proportions. But I guess if you boil it right down to it, yeah, that’s kind of what we’re looking at. Sgt. Kelly McLean
One particularly irritating aspect of the vandalism wave is that in the absence of an identifiable perpetrator, vehicle owners are frequently left holding the bag when damage is caused to their cars.
“Unfortunately, in situations like this, because you don’t know who the responsible party is who caused the damage, it’s likely the vehicle owner who would be responsible for the deductible,” Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) external communications manager Kim Hambleton said.
Although SGI occasionally partners with police for public awareness campaigns and the like, Hambleton said that as of yet Prince Albert police have not approached SGI on a joint response to the problem.
For the moment, police are engaged in targeting the vandalism at a management level and at an operational level. Where officers are available, they are directed to problem areas. The force is analyzing areas where damage has been caused and sending preventative patrols there during twilight hours.
Nevertheless, the fact that the damage is not centralized in a specific area, but rather is spread out throughout the city, renders such preventative work more difficult.
“All of our operational members are aware of the issues that we’re having with this wilful damage and this vandalism,” Sgt. McLean said. “The guys and the gals are out there looking for that kind of suspicious activity, but … we’re encouraging the public to continue to report suspicious activity in their areas, and we’re responding to those calls of suspicious activity hoping that we can do enough proactive work that we can stop these waves … of damages that are being caused.”