Red Deer, Alberta – In a recent private ceremony, Red Deer RCMP recognized a citizen for his outstanding contribution in helping police locate multiple stolen vehicles each month, sometimes while the criminals were still in them. Over the past two years, it’s estimated that DM (not his real name) has helped police recover more than 400 stolen vehicles.
DM didn’t want to use his real name for this story because it’s the anonymity that allows him to spot and call in so many stolen vehicles. His job requires him to drive throughout the city every day, and that regular presence in every Red Deer neighbourhood grants him a kind of invisibility to criminals who are on the lookout for police. He’s also quick to note that he doesn’t call in the stolen vehicles while he’s driving; as a professional driver, he’s all too aware of the dangers of distracted driving.
DM’s interest in helping police recover stolen vehicles – and in seeing those responsible get arrested – started a few years ago after his own car was stolen when he left it unlocked and running. When he posted about it on social media, he says, “I got raked over the coals for leaving it running with the keys inside. It was a lesson learned.”
That experience prompted DM’s involvement with the Facebook group “Central Alberta Stolen Vehicles,” which currently has about 10,000 followers. It also created a new use for a rare skill he possesses – a photographic memory.
Every morning, DM checks the Central Alberta Stolen Vehicles page and other social media groups focused on stolen vehicles and makes a list of any outstanding stolen vehicles; thanks to his incredible memory for vehicle makes, colours, details and license plates, however, he rarely has to consult his list once he’s compiled it. “If I’ve seen it once, it’s almost guaranteed I’ll find it,” he says. “Often if a vehicle is stolen in the morning, I find it by afternoon.”
That dedication, combined with his photographic memory and his job, make DM an exceptional resource for RCMP and for the community. He sees his contribution as an important complement to the work done by RCMP, and enjoys the feeling of community involvement that comes with connecting online with victims and helping to find their stolen vehicles.
“It’s people’s livelihood – they need to be able to get to work, or get the kids to appointments. When they get their vehicles back it’s such a sense of relief that they don’t have to go out and spend money on another car,” he says. “These groups create a feeling of community – we do communicate with police, and yes, they are looking for these vehicles. I get angry when people put down the police because they don’t see all the work they’re doing. They’re hard working people.”
After his own car was stolen, DM reported it to the RCMP and then started looking for it himself. It didn’t take long for him to find it parked in a retail lot, still occupied by the suspect. He called RCMP and the man behind the wheel was arrested; DM notes that, at the time of the arrest, his car was full of stolen property from a Red Deer business. “Take it from someone who did it,” DM says of leaving his car unlocked and running, “I enabled him to get down to (the store) and clean them out.”
After his car was returned to him, DM notes he spent two days cleaning it. “You have that disgusting feeling – you feel violated. Someone has been in your space and you don’t know what they’ve done in it. I still have ‘what ifs’.”
He enjoys working with the RCMP and the call takers, who have come to recognize his voice and name, and appreciate the courtesy he shows when he’s asked to follow the same call logging procedure each time he calls – which is sometimes several times a day.
“It was a pleasure to see DM recognized for his contribution to our community in locating stolen vehicles, and it was also a great opportunity to let him know how much the call takers appreciate his patience and understanding when we’re taking his information for dispatch,” says one of the call takers who deals with DM regularly. “We’re such a busy detachment, and often he is put on hold while a more urgent call is dispatched or while we answer other incoming calls. He has left an impression on all of us.”
Superintendent Ken Foster, officer in charge at the Red Deer RCMP detachment, describes DM’s contribution as an extraordinary embracing of the police tenet that citizens are the eyes and ears of every community. The ceremony recognizing his contribution was hosted by Superintendent Foster, Inspectors Grobmeier and Lagrange, and former Red Deer RCMP Superintendent Scott Tod. DM was presented with a plaque at a reception in front of attendees including DM’s family, RCMP members, and several call takers who were glad to finally put a face to the voice they’ve come to know so well.
“This one individual has been an active part of the recovery of more than 400 vehicles over the past two years, and about half of those vehicles were occupied by criminals when RCMP arrived,” says Foster. “Not only has DM helped police return many stolen vehicles to their rightful owners, he plays an important role in helping us arrest many career criminals and put them before the courts. We’ve recovered firearms, drugs and large amounts of stolen identity documents from these vehicles. It’s astounding to see the positive impact that one person can have on a community. Red Deer RCMP commend his commitment to crime prevention and reduction and are grateful for his service.”
DM was surprised and touched to be recognized by Red Deer RCMP for the significance of his contribution. “It made me feel great,” he says. “I feel honoured.”
DM has two pieces of advice for citizens, and both come from his experience as a victim of crime and from seeing so many stolen vehicles in the course of his daily travels. First, he stresses the importance of never leaving your vehicle unlocked and running. And second, as a man who knows every inch of Red Deer thanks to driving its streets every day, he has this to say: “Something I want people to do is look out your window. You know your neighbourhood – you need to pay attention to what’s going on. Notice who or what doesn’t belong and report it to the RCMP.”
“Until you’ve been physically affected by (vehicle theft), you can’t relate,” DM says. “I’ve been a victim and I know what it feels like. I would never wish anyone that feeling. Now that I’ve seen it firsthand, I’m going to help as many people as possible.”
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Superintendent Ken Foster
Red Deer RCMP