Unshaven, dressed in an aged grey T-shirt and jeans, Cpl. Bob Pilot projects the image of another guy coming off shift at a construction site.
In a crowd he’s a forgettable face, or at least that’s the hope as he and his street crime unit track chronic criminals across the West Shore.
The number of reported thefts and drug-related crimes in Langford and Colwood have been trending down over the years, in some cases significantly – last year Langford had 200 car break-ins over 515 five years ago.
But the West Shore RCMP street crime crew is never at a loss for targets. Drug dealing and property crime remain popular occupations for a small but determined segment of the population.
“There is no skid row here,” Pilot observes, but there are plenty of residential homes and apartments trafficking in stolen goods and drugs.
Similar to trends seen five years ago, police say drugs of choice in West Shore communities are powder cocaine and crack cocaine, especially among young males. Cellphones seized from coke dealers ring without end.
“Coke and crack are still very popular. We haven’t seen a decrease. In fact there may be more users,” said Pilot, 48, a 22-year veteran Mountie. “You see some property crimes as a result of addiction to crack cocaine. But what we find in general is the most prolific property crime offenders have a meth addiction.”
Offenders who break into a dozen cars in an evening or break-and-enter multiple homes over a week are typically feeding an all-consuming methamphetamine habit. Pilot calls it “farming” – these habitual offenders check every car door, case every house they can in the search for cash or goods to sell.
“Meth is the most damaging drug physically and socially and crime-wise without a doubt,” Pilot said. “These guys don’t do (crime) for food, they do it for drugs. They lead subsistence lives. They have nothing.”
The West Shore RCMP street crime unit and the Regional Crime Unit both target chronic offenders, those committing the vast majority of property crimes across Greater Victoria. Pilot calls it a strategy of targeting the criminal, not the crime.
“Instead of going backward to solve a break-and-enter, we target offenders known to do break and enters, or drug traffickers as opposed to the users,” he said. “It’s much more effective.”
Information on specific dealers and thieves is pieced together through connections with other police agencies, traffic stops by uniformed RCMP officers, reports from residents and the Crime Stoppers tip line. Confidential informants, though, are the life blood of undercover police work. Some are motivated by revenge, some for money and some for, as Pilot puts it, the good of the community.
“Crime Stoppers can send us in a direction, but we need to corroborate that information through surveillance and through sources,” Pilot said. “We’re always looking for people to talk to us. Without informants we can’t do our job.”
Surveillance – tailing suspects in unmarked cars, watching from afar with binoculars, stuff people might see on TV cop shows – is also a daily staple for Pilot and his crew.
With only three officers in street crime, occasionally the target will recognize an undercover officer who has arrested them before. But most remain oblivious to being followed around all day.
When it comes time for an arrest or search warrant, the street crime unit makes sure they look more like police officers – a suspect is more likely to fight back against being robbed by a fellow criminal.
Indeed, these criminal-on-criminal “drug rips” are a dangerous and growing byproduct of the drug trade on the West Shore and Greater Victoria, and one of the primary ways bystanders can get hurt.
In May 2011 a Langford man was beaten and pepper sprayed in a home invasion, but refused to identify his attackers. In March this year two men tied up and robbed a suspected drug dealer in his Peatt Road apartment.
“There we have a home invasion for drugs and money, but you can’t prove that at all. The victim isn’t saying that’s what happened. The victim actually ran away,” Pilot said. “Can you have a victim his he runs away?”
Pilot said cases of criminals robbing other criminals happen frequently and usually aren’t reported to police. Conversely, on April 19 two men broke into an apartment in Colwood and terrorized two innocent people in what investigators suspect was a targeted home invasion at the wrong address.
“It becomes a danger to the public if they hit apartment 101 but (the target) lives in 107. They kick down the door, beat up an innocent victim. It’s happened before, it will happen again.”
Pilot said overall, the streets of the West Shore are safe, and people openly consuming and selling drugs isn’t common. But the RCMP corporal said residents need to report more often where the drug and stolen goods trade is happening – home and apartments in residential neighbourhoods.
“The more people report, the more information we have the easier it is to move on an investigation. It’s easier to do our job.”
Anyone who suspects drug activity in their neighbourhood can call West Shore RCMP at 250-474-2264 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).