The community needs to work together to tackle violent crime in Williams Lake, said Mayor Walt Cobb Thursday during a community meeting at city hall.
“Silos don’t work, we know that,” Cobb said. “We need to know who we are dealing with, pool our resources and get one group together.”
Organized by Erin and Pat Graham who moved to Williams Lake last October and run Guardian Youth At Risk and Family Services, the meeting attracted about 75 people.
Several high profile crimes in recent years, including two murders and this month’s car chase and shooting on Western Avenue, have many in the community fearing for their safety.
“We thought it was important to make this a community event,” Erin said of the meeting.
A self-described reformed gang member, Pat said he has been trying to connect with young offenders in the community since he and his family moved to Williams Lake.
“Williams Lake has somehow lost the power of the people,” Pat said, noting he has had many people tell him who the person shooting from the car was on Western Avenue two weekends ago.
“Why don’t you drive down to police station and tell them, and get him off the street, because that’s attempted murder,” Pat said, adding it is sad how many people are scared to talk to the police.
Elders, children and families are at risk, said Sugar Cane resident Helen Sandy.
“Retaliation is something a lot of us know about it,” Sandy said. “I fear for my safety, a lot of other people probably do too.”
Rachel Hance, the sister of the victim who was shot on Western Avenue during the car chase, said her brother did not ask for it.
“My brother is the biggest teddy bear in Williams Lake and I need everyone to know Sheldon Johnny is his name and he is not a gang member, he is far from it,” she said.
Hance is an Aboriginal employment coach and said the high-risk youth she works with want to be loved, cared for and given the opportunity to work.
“I cannot get employment for these kids because there is not the community support,” Hance said.
Responding Pat suggested there needs to be a large group of people willing to volunteer to counsel youth in the community.
“We do have citizens on patrol in our community so if you are willing to volunteer, please give us your name,” Cobb responded. “That way you would get a bit of training, we could do this as a group and do it collectively. You people who know the kids and know what is happening are going to be able to give the RCMP the information they need.”
When someone from the room asked why prolific offenders aren’t in jail, Graham said as an ex-gang member he walked away from many charges.
“Not because I was innocent but because I had a smart lawyer who was able to find a loophole,” Pat said. “Maybe I deserved 10 years for having 10 guns in my truck but I got six months probation. It’s the way the legal system works.”
Pat said if a prolific offender is kicked out of his community and comes into Williams Lake and breaks the law, the offender needs to be made to leave.
Coun. Scott Nelson said more resources need to be put into the prolific offender program.
Conservative MP candidate Todd Doherty who travelled from Prince George to attend, encouraged everyone to trust and work with the police.
“They are doing the best they can with the resources they have,” Doherty said. “If we had all the eyes that are in this room on the street helping them, letting them know what’s happening, you can take back your community.”
After Pat suggested the community needs a youth recreation centre, Shannon Stump-William who runs Changing Directions for Aboriginal Youth, said there is already lots for youth to do in Williams Lake, but many cannot afford it.
“What can we do as a community to make it work?” she asked.
Cobb said there will be another meeting to follow up.