Recently, a single mom returned to her Sherwood Village home at midday to find a stranger in a tuque and hoodie in the backyard.
“He bolted into my house,” she said. “I yelled at him, ‘Who are you?’ and began walking toward my back door.”
The woman thought better of it and instead rushed to her car to call for help.
But the thief reappeared, jumped on a black mountain bike and sped off with cash, children’s piggy banks, gift cards and family jewelry.
Though badly shaken the woman, who asked for anonymity, tried to follow the intruder in her car but he turned into a walkway and disappeared.
“It’s not just the loss of my property that upsets me. It’s that a stranger came into my home and went through my personal items,” she said.
“When I went inside, he had rummaged through every single room and everything had been thrown around.”
The police arrived and took a report. An officer told her that brazen daytime break-ins are happening in every neighbourhood of Sarnia.
“He was helpful, but said ‘We catch them and they are released the next day.’ There are no consequences.”
Coun. Bill Dennis agrees. A “tsunami” of petty theft is occurring all across the city, a problem aided by a “catch and release” justice system, he told council last month.
People desperate for cash are raiding vehicles, stealing bicycles and breaking into homes, he said, calling petty crime the number one reason constituents contact him.
“People are so fed up they don’t even report it to the police. They don’t leave their house with confidence,” Dennis said. One resident, after five break-ins, was listing the home to move to a safer, more rural area, he said.
While Sarnia Police work hard to catch those responsible they are also frustrated by a legal system that releases them quickly, he added.
“This is not the Sarnia we grew up in, nor is it the one we want for the future.”
Dennis’ comments sparked a debate among councillors, who in the end agreed unanimously to have city staff consult with Lambton County and Sarnia Police Services to explore solutions.
Factors contributing to the problem include drug addiction, mental health and a lack of housing, they noted.
Councillors Mike Stark and George Vandenberg expressed concern about the surge of property crimes, but said they don’t believe it’s City Hall’s mandate to involve itself in policing responsibilities.
Mayor Mike Bradley noted four additional officers are included into next year’s police budget.
Coun. Nathan Colquhoun said more officers aren’t necessarily the answer. A grassroots effort is needed in which neighbours watch out more for their neighbours, he said.
In his neighbourhood, near downtown, a Facebook group with 120 members keeps an eye on unusual people and activities, he said.
Dennis said he would ask council on Dec. 13 to push the Ontario government for change.
“I see the flaw is with the legal system,” he said. “There are no consequences for bad behaviour.”