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Community patrols assist police

Saturday, 20 January 2018. Posted in Shootin' the Breeze

Community patrols assist police

Citizens on Patrol member Kimberly Hurst assists RCMP with a pre-Christmas checkstop in Pincher Creek.   Photo by Brenda Shenton

Community patrols assist police

By Jessica Buhler

Citizens on Patrol began in Pincher Creek in 1997 and has helped keep the community safe and informed since then. In 2010, volunteers from the MD of Pincher Creek, Cowley and rural areas came on board and later the group name was changed to Pincher Creek District COP.

Since its inception, the group’s purpose has been to deter vandalism and other criminal activity in our communities.

Robyn Dowson, the local president, has participated since 2010 in the group, which now has 22 members.

The mission statement of all the Alberta COP groups is: We are the extended eyes and ears for our local law enforcement agency.

“We are out there observing, and if something seems suspicious, or off, we call either the officer on duty, or to dispatch,” says Robyn.

“If you ever watch NCIS, with Gibbs always going with his gut, a lot of us do that too. Many of our patrollers notice little things.”

“For example,” she says, “that light is always on and now it’s off. The gate to the business is always closed or locked and now it’s open, and there aren’t lights or vehicles around the premises. Or there is a vehicle parked by a business and no one is around.”

When suspicious activity is noticed, “We drive a safe distance away, but near enough to observe ... call the officers and wait for them to come and check it out,” she says.

“If we see someone run out and get into a vehicle, we try to get as much detail as we can. Vehicle colour, make, model, licence plate number is very useful, and what the person was wearing. Pictures are worth a thousand words as well.”

Citizens on Patrol can follow at a safe distance after informing the RCMP, but once the officers are on-scene, the COP members turn around and continue their patrols.

“What happens from then on is not our business, but officers may later ask us for any info we have written down,” says Robyn.

During one patrol at a car dealership, “members observed a vehicle parked across the road from it with three occupants, who slouched down when our members drove past,” she says.

“The members were immediately suspicious and drove on to a safe distance and called it in. Within three minutes, two patrol cars were on-scene.”

COP members also leave cards in business doors and have found numerous doors left unlocked. In fact, at one business the keys were found left in the lock.

“We will write on the back of [the card] if we’ve observed something like a window left open. We also put the time and date the door was carded,” Robyn says.

“We’ve had a lot of favourable responses from businesses over the years and they’re especially grateful if we’ve found their business door unlocked.”

If you are interested in helping to keep your community safe, COP is always looking for new members. Your commitment would be patrolling once every two months, for a minimum of three hours. Meetings are held every two months at Lundbreck Community Hall.

The first step for anyone interested is to contact the group either through Facebook or by email at pinchercreekcop@gmail.com. The next step is to complete a criminal record check application at the RCMP detachment and provide two forms of identification.

Upon receiving the results, after about a week, interested parties meet for an interview with Robyn and her husband, George, who is a director on the Alberta Citizens on Patrol Association board.

After a signed membership form is filed at the RCMP detachment, the person receives about three hours of training using an ACOPA manual. The person then goes out on patrol with an experienced patroller, and when ready can go out with other members. Two members always patrol together.

“We are the extra eyes and ears for the RCMP, but we are by no means RCMP officers,” says Robyn. “This means we cannot apprehend or arrest anyone, and we do not carry guns.  Personal safety of our members is of utmost concern.”

The local Citizens on Patrol group is one of 72 in Alberta, with over 20 new groups forming in the last couple years since the economic downturn.   

“People are tired of the break-ins, stolen vehicles and vandalism that seems to have reached an all-time high, and they want to take back their communities,” Robyn says. “We’re also more respectful of what our local police have to deal with on a daily basis, and we enjoy working with and helping them whenever we can.”

The group’s liaison with Pincher Creek RCMP is Const. Annie Starzynski. If there are any “hot spots” in the community, she or office staff will contact Robyn with the information, which will be passed on to COP members.

“In being closely involved with the detachment, we are sometimes told confidential information,” Robyn says. “This information is like the saying about Vegas. What happens in our group stays within our group, and I cannot stress the confidential factor enough to our members.”

Involvement in Citizens on Patrol can be exciting, rewarding and informative. Robyn has learned much since beginning with COP and offers a few crime-prevention tips for community residents:

— Always be aware of your surroundings, especially if you’re out at night.

— Leave an outside light on if you’re out after dark, or have a motion light installed by your garage and home doorways.

— Cut down any obscuring shrubs around your home; these make good hiding places for vandals.

— Always take your valuables out of your vehicle, or put them out of sight and lock it, especially if not parked in a garage. Never leave your keys in the vehicle.

Asked what the most enjoyable aspect of being a member is, Robyn replies, “The feeling that you’ve accomplished something worthwhile in trying to help keep your community and family as safe as possible.”