Frustrated Kleefeld citizens banding together to snuff out recent crime spree

Residents in a small rural community want to put boots on the ground to combat crime as they're tired of the ongoing destruction of property.

Dustin McCaughan of Kleefeld is part of a group working to start a Citizens on Patrol Program (COPP) in Kleefeld, which would put volunteers on the streets in the community located within the RM of Hanover, southeast of Winnipeg.

McCaughan said he believes, and many have told him the need for a COPP program in Kleefeld is not because of fears for personal safety or violent crime, but because of persistent issues with property crimes, vandalism, graffiti and theft.

“A lot of it is the theft and the vandalism, and I do think a lot of it is young people who are bored,” McCaughan said. “A big part of this would be to just let those who are doing these things know that people are out there and people are watching, and you can’t just get away with it.”

He said one incident left the community particularly concerned, as windows were shattered on multiple vehicles in one resident’s yard.

RCMP statistics do show a rise in property crime and in overall criminal offences in Kleefeld, as in the community of about 1,900 residents stats show there were 10 property crimes, and two criminal code offences last year between April 1 and Sept. 30, but those numbers rose to 18 property crimes, and eight criminal code offences for the same time period in 2023.

Any COPP program in Kleefeld, according to McCaughan, would be focused on community safety, and creating an increased presence, and not be about citizen’s arrests or vigilante justice.

“We wouldn’t be going out there and harassing people or intervening in dangerous situations,” he said

“We would be there to call police if we see something, but it’s also just to let people know that there are people out there that care about the community and want to instil some of that pride back into it.”

According to McCaughan, plans for a COPP program are in the “organizing stages,” and there are enough volunteers that the program could be up and running in Kleefeld by early next year.

RM of Hanover Mayor Jim Funk said Hanover council would be open to working with and supporting any credible COPP programs in the community, because he said he has seen property crimes increasingly frustrating Hanover residents.

“People in the community are just getting tired and upset with the fact that things are being destroyed often for no reason, and property is being stolen from them, and there are often no consequences because the RCMP are already swamped, and they can’t be everywhere,” Funk said.

He said he also hopes that crime isn’t minimized in Hanover even if people aren’t being physically harmed, because property crimes, according to Funk, can have long-lasting negative effects on communities.

“It’s hard when you have something like your window smashed on your car, because it’s time-consuming and it can be expensive to get it fixed, and that’s not the kinds of things people should be forced to deal with,” he said. “But there also becomes just more of a general sense of unease in the community.

“These aren’t victimless crimes.”

Manitoba RCMP said 40 COPP programs are currently operating in the province with more than 515 current COPP volunteers in six regions.

“The Manitoba RCMP recognizes that to have safer communities, we need community members to be active and engaged with their local detachments, which is why the Manitoba RCMP works very closely with the COPP,” the spokesperson said in an email.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun