Wearing bright orange jackets with the RCMP logo, Citizens on Patrol (COP) volunteers are helping to keep the community safe – for law-abiding citizens.
Sue Kershaw, president of the local group, says the jackets often provide a message, telling law-abiding citizens they’re welcome and those who are not to move along.
When the group was formed 20 years ago, break-and-enter statistics were very high.
Since then, the numbers of thefts have dropped and COP’s focus has shifted to reflect the change.
“While the wee hours used to be prime time because of property crime, we are now more involved with public safety, particularly on the beach, in the parks and in and around malls,” says Kershaw, noting this is the focus requested by the local detachment. “Our bright, orange jackets give the message that there are eyes and ears on behalf of RCMP, ICBC and city council to enhance public safety and security.”
Kershaw says parents should be able to send their children to parks or the beach and know they are safe.
COPs regularly visit parking lots, where they check licence plates, looking for stolen vehicles and making sure vehicle insurance is valid.
“We’re a visible deterrent and we observe, record and report,” says Kershaw. “We do Speed Watch for ICBC and stolen auto recovery where we use palm pilots with up-to-date lists of stolen vehicles, and Lock Out Auto Crime, making sure people don’t leave valuable items in sight, or children or dogs (in vehicles) in the summer.”
On a recent stint in the parking lot at the Mall at Piccadilly, COPs members discovered four problem insurance decals, two of which were about to expire within a couple of days and four were expired.
“We left friendly reminders,” says Kershaw. “If they had forgotten and been picked up, they would have had a $109 fine. Of the four we spoke to the RCMP about, two had valid decals but not on their vehicles.”
Another vehicle had an expired insurance decal, something that would have cost the owner a $598 fine, had they been stopped by police.
As well as taking part in the Speed Watch program, COPs are taking on distracted drivers, doing an initial screening and radioing ahead to police, who are stopping the drivers.
COPs also provide intersection control for major events such as the upcoming Halloween Treat Trail, Fall Fair Parade and CP Rail Holiday Train.
Some of the members hop on their bikes to patrol areas such as Blackburn and Fletcher Park and the downtown core.
“It’s easy to get into a lot of areas where people might be hanging around,” says Kershaw, pointing out the bike patrol was successful, drew many compliments and hopefully will be back next summer.
“We provide a funny little niche for young people who are thinking of going into police work,” says Kershaw, noting one young man has joined COPS to get more experience while he awaits acceptance into the RCMP. “They get an arm’s length view of police work.”
For other members, young and old, personal benefits include a sense of satisfaction for the interesting work they do.
Training includes CPR level one and access to a variety of speakers from emergency programs, search and rescue groups, BC Hydro along with regular visits from the RCMP.
“And we’re sometimes invited on ride-alongs with RCMP members,” Kershaw says. “We think it’s a lot of fun; we recognize our members have to have fun and be collegial – that’s the glue that holds the group together.”
And more members are welcome to join.
COPS is looking for enthusiastic people 19 years of age or older, with no criminal record and an ability to get along with a group and the public. All current volunteers have passed the highest level of criminal checks so they can work with seniors and children.
To join the local COPs group, go online to www.members.shaw.ca/sacp.