The Port Alberni RCMP and City of Port Alberni have launched a new volunteer program to keep visible patrols out on the streets of the Alberni Valley.
Crime Watch is the newest program under the RCMP’s Community Policing office, replacing the detachment’s Citizens on Patrol program. Trained volunteers patrol the streets, observing and reporting suspicious activity to the police.
“They do the same thing [as Citizens on Patrol]—patrol the streets, observe and report suspicious activity,” explained Community Policing manager Dave Cusson. “But now they receive updated training on what to report and where to go. They are the extra eyes and ears for the police.”
The biggest change for Crime Watch is the appearance. Volunteers are shifting from a “covert” model to using marked city vehicles with “Community Policing Volunteers” branding in order to make their presence known.
“The idea is that citizens and potential criminals will see them out and patrolling the streets,” said Cusson. “We’re going to be seen more. The RCMP’s really busy, so having this marked vehicle out there provides another level of safety.”
The volunteers don’t have any “hands on” or arrest capabilities, Cusson explained. Their job is to call the RCMP’s dispatch centre if they encounter anything suspicious. However, volunteers do get “an extensive amount” of training before they start patrolling, said Cusson, and they always patrol in pairs.
“They’re not just given the keys and told to go out,” he added.
Volunteers patrol day and night, weekends and week days, with their patrol locations based on “crime maps” that show where high levels of crime have been reported in the community. People can view these crime maps at www.pacommunitypolicing.com to see what’s going on in their own neighbourhoods.
“We always want people to report these things, so we can plot out where our crime is happening,” said Cusson.
Cusson is a retired RCMP officer who was hired by the City of Port Alberni earlier this year to take charge of their community policing program.
Crime Watch falls under the suite of Community Policing programs such as Speed Watch and Cell Watch. But volunteers don’t just patrol for crime in progress—they also work proactively. With “Lock Out Auto Crime,” volunteers will patrol various parking lots, checking to see if vehicles are “primed for crime” with visible valuables, open windows or unlocked doors. Volunteers will leave a brochure on the car’s window, advising vehicle owners about how they can deter auto theft.
Volunteers also perform stolen auto recovery, checking license plates on vehicles to see if they are stolen, and canvas neighbourhoods where break-ins have recently occurred, providing neighbours with advisory letters and safety tips.
“That’s a nice service that very few communities have,” said Cusson.
Throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic, Cusson said volunteers have taken special precautions to prevent COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 protocols we embed in everything we do,” he said. This includes masks, hand sanitizing and social distancing. “Everybody is pretty on board with that,” he added.
Cusson said the RCMP is always looking for more citizens to offer their volunteer time. If you are interested in volunteering, or would like to learn more information about Community Policing, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We have a good group of volunteers here,” said Cusson.