A number of Island communities have been experiencing a rash of thefts of and from vehicles, outbuilding and garages. It seems that anything that isn’t tied down (and a fair bit that actually is) has become fair game for thieves. Christmas always seems to be a time when there is a rise in thefts, encouraged, no doubt, by the unfortunate tendency of folks to leave valuables in their vehicles over night, and despite the OPP’s regular campaigns encouraging people to “lock it or lose it,” far too many people leave their keys in their vehicles.

This isn’t, of course, a rural issue. With the ongoing opioid crisis sweeping the nation, a whole new cadre of desperate individuals can be found wandering the streets and byways seeking something they can convert into a quick buck for a quick fix.

The residents of Manitoulin Island are no strangers when it comes to falling victim to thieves, often urban criminals come to the countryside knowing that rural folks often pride themselves in being able to leave their doors unlocked.

As a result, most rural neighbours keep a close eye on unfamiliar vehicles seen travelling the back roads during the winter months—all too aware of the potential for criminals looking for empty cottages and homes.

The recent formation of a neighbourhood watch chapter in Mindemoya is a great extension of that concept on a formal basis. Vigilance (not, we must stress vigilantism) among the general public can go a tremendous way towards reducing the incidents of crime, particularly crimes of opportunity.

A neighbourhood watch is a perfect example of neighbours helping neighbours and can also help new members of the community meet and become engaged with their community, as members meet their neighbours, learn how to make their homes more secure, watch out for each other and the neighbourhood and report activity that raises their suspicions to the police. It’s really a win-win situation for everyone except the criminals.

But whether a formal neighbourhood watch group is set up in your community or not, staying alert to suspicious activity can be a great first line of defence against crime. Taking a moment to pick up the phone and make that call to the local police detachment can pay big dividends in reducing crime, because word will quickly get out to the bad guys that Manitoulin Island does not provide easy pickings and breaking into homes and cottages here is a good way to end up in the crowbar hotel.

The police cannot be everywhere and they rely on the public to assist them in this manner. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has long depended on the good will of hunters and other rural travellers to alert them to poaching and other illegal activities in the bush as there are nowhere near enough conservation officers to cover the vast expanse of bush that is Northern Ontario. A similar approach on our rural communities can help extend the long arm of the law in order to discourage crime.

Neighbours helping neighbours has a nice ring to it, and in this season of giving and helping others, there is little that could be more Manitoulin than that.