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'It certainly has ramped up': Community centres throughout Winnipeg dealing with uptick in break-ins

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Community centres in Winnipeg are ringing alarm bells over what they say is an increase in break-ins.

The latest incident happened at the Norberry-Glenlee Community Centre on May 17 when someone broke into the batting cage and stole several items, including a pitching machine worth thousands of dollars.

Sean Fedorowich, the president of the community centre, as well as the chair of the Riel Community Centre Board, said the situation has been getting worse.

"There's always been a certain amount of vandalism and theft, and so on, which community centres deal with just like everybody else does. But it certainly has ramped up for community centres," said Fedorowich.

"The amount of crime and criminal activity has ramped up as much for community centres as it has for everyone else."

During the monthly meetings of the Riel Community Centre Board, Fedorowich said the topic of criminal activity has been brought up more frequently, as well as what can be done to prevent these issues.

"A big part of the problem is, community centres are run by a limited number of people who aren't really necessarily trained to deal with this," he said. "Not only do we have to provide ways for people to deal with these experiences that we've never really had as community centres before, but we have to also be able to protect our users, our staff, our volunteers, our people."

Lora Meseman, the executive director of the General Council of Winnipeg Community Centres, said they have noticed a significant increase in break-ins at community centres in all areas of the city.

"We've had a number of serious break-ins at community centres in the last probably eight to 12 months," said Meseman.

She said when these break-ins happen and items are stolen, it can have lasting impacts on community centres, especially some of the smaller ones in Winnipeg.

"It has crippled other community centres. Financially, it delays their finances and puts a lot of pressure on them in terms of running the centre."

When asked what community centres could do to help lessen the blow, Meseman noted a number of steps have already been taken, like installing security cameras and having a locked door policy when no events are going on.

"For special events, they have security guards, and that never used to be (a thing) back even 20 years ago when I started volunteering at community centres. They're certainly taking those steps, but it's at a cost. It's at a cost not necessarily to the city, but to the constituents of that community centre."

In a statement to CTV News Winnipeg, Winnipeg police said community centre theft is not a new problem as they have often been a target after hours.

Coun. Markus Chambers, who the chair of the Winnipeg Police Board, said it is something he has been hearing more of.

"I've had numerous community centres that have contacted me with respect to these types of issues," said Chambers.

He noted that, like the retail theft problem, all these items that are taken from community centres are currency on the street.

"If it's individuals who are looking for substances to get by, they're using these items to sell on the black market."

Fedorowich agreed, noting it is all tied into societal problems.

"If we can make progress toward solving poverty and drug problems, and if we can help families and people to live better lives, then things will get better, and these problems will become less of a problem than they are now," said Fedorowich.

He thinks community centres not only need to work with each other, but with other stakeholder groups in the community to help ensure community centres become less of a target for thieves.

- With files from CTV's Jeff Keele 

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