Some great folks in our community had an experience, and a concern, so they took advantage of the wonderful world of Facebook to create a page that would generate community awareness around crime and crime prevention activities in Penhold. They had experienced a vehicle break-in and wanted the community to be on alert, lock up valuables, and be watchful for criminal activity such as this. Great idea.

Penhold is a “bedroom community” and does not have an RCMP detachment within the municipality. Although we do have 3 part-time Peace Officers, the patrol coverage they are able to offer has its limitations. There is also a perception amongst many in town that it is a waste of time to call the RCMP as it is believed that whatever criminal activity is underway at the moment would be well accomplished by the time a unit arrives from Innisfail or some other part of the detachment’s area of coverage. These factors create definite challenges for us in our desires to have a safe community. It is understandable that people get alarmed and even angry when their property is stolen or vandalized. It’s also understandable that people are frustrated with a what they see as a lack of law enforcement. The issues we face also exist in other communities, but this community is ours, and we want the break-ins and vandalism to stop.

BUT… I’ve been watching the “”Penhold Crime Watch” page, and have become increasingly concerned with the tone of the posts. Negativity is like an undertow, sneaking up on us and pulling us into a powerful downward spiral. Blaming the youth of the community just creates division and stirs up even more anger. Teenagers feel “judged” and victimized, and they respond, as we’ve seen through comments on the page, with anger and bad behaviour. I fully understand and empathize with the concerns of the community and agree with the premise for this page, but I believe we’re headed down a bad path unless we change our perspective and tactics.

Penhold has a community values statement, created in 2006 and injected into every part of our community culture. Our core values are summed up as “Penhold SHARES (is Supportive, Healthy, Accepting, Responsible, Ever-Active and Safe)”. You’ll note that ONE of those values is “Safe”. There’s no question that we all want a crime free, safe community. However, we have a responsibility to balance the desire for safety with all of those other values.

So my question is: How can we work together to ensure that we are Safe, but in a balanced way the incorporates ALL of our values? How can we model Supportiveness, Healthy choices, and a community culture that is Accepting, and Responsible?

There are no easy answers. I’m encouraged by much of the response I see thus far. The increased  interest in forming a COP group, the initiative people are taking to walk or drive the neighbourhood, everyone watching out for each other – these are good! This is the Penhold I know and love. We don’t sit back and wait for someone else to solve our problems; we take initiative and work together as a community. We’re resourceful, resilient, and self-reliant. I’m also pleased to see the administrators of the Facebook page working diligently to maintain a positive, focused, and respectful tone. They remove inflammatory, finger-pointing comments and they post reminders to keep us all on the proper path.

The thing is that fear pulls us out of relationships and disconnects us from each other. People often mistakenly think that by keeping their curtains closed, doors locked and keeping to themselves, they’ll be safe. But research actually supports the opposite: communities that are connected and relational tend to be safer. That’s the Penhold I know. We know our neighbour’s routines, we see when something unusual is happening on our block, we talk to each other about what’s going on and we work together. I don’t want to lose that. If we do, then the crooks who swiped the stereo out of that truck will have robbed us of something even more valuable.

Really, it’s about all of us paying attention to purposefully creating our community culture. I don’t want a negative, fearful, divided community where nobody trusts anyone else and we focus on the negatives. I don’t know anyone who wants to live in that kind of toxic atmosphere. But we each and all must diligently commit to living out all of our SHARES values.

I like the “Penhold Crime Watch” page, but it will implode and our community culture will suffer if we don’t honour it and our values as a whole.

So please, keep posting. Keep the conversations going and keep our community safe. Just don’t forget those other five values in the process.

Tell me what you think.