Port Alberni’s community policing program is ramping up again after a pause when the novel coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020.
Port Alberni RCMP Inspector Eric Rochette was on hand last week to thank volunteers with the Speedwatch program as part of National Volunteer Week. Volunteers with a radar gun were watching for speeders and distracted drivers at two different locations along Johnston Road.
Speedwatch and Cell Watch, in addition to Crime Watch and Lock Out Auto Crime are four of eight programs that community policing runs in Port Alberni.
“Right now we have about 25 volunteers on our books,” says community policing manager Dave Cusson.
Community policing volunteers put in 1,111 hours since the program was restructured in 2019, in spite of COVID-19 protocols restricting programs over the past year. Port Alberni’s program was one of few that were able to keep running in some capacity throughout 2020.
The Port Alberni RCMP Community Policing volunteer program was set up to strengthen community and policing partnerships through education, engagement and empowerment of volunteers.
Volunteers drive city-branded vehicles, which is a departure from the former Citizens on Patrol program. The Crime Watch program has volunteers driving around at night looking for suspicious activity and reporting it to RCMP.
“They’re extra eyes,” says Cusson. “It’s pretty cool, having that extension of the law. They’re (volunteers) specially trained observers.”
Volunteers receive special training once they clear a police information check. Some is self-directed and the rest is done through trainers such as Cusson, who is a longtime community policing advocate with more than 30 years of policing experience—22 of which were spent with the Port Alberni RCMP detachment.
“Everything is well structured and safe,” he said.
“It’s all about safety, especially with COVID. We follow very strict guidelines.”
Cusson is hoping more volunteers will sign up because he would like to see a daytime Crime Watch program. Right now volunteer patrols take place at night.
“I’m always looking for younger people looking to build skill sets, especially if they want to go into policing, or seniors looking for something to do,” he said.
The next step for community policing will be to move into a new building on Third Avenue. The City of Port Alberni owns a building at the corner of Third and Argyle Street that it intends to renovate and create a community safety building that will include both the policing program and bylaw enforcement.
City council was to consider a development permit application for renovations at its Monday, April 26 meeting.
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