NORTH BATTLEFORD — Citizens on Patrol went before the Battlefords Chamber of Commerce Tuesday with a pitch for new members.
Representatives including Doug Fehr, RCMP S/Sgt. Jason Teniuk and city officials including Mayor David Gillan were at the chamber’s noon hour directors meeting outlining their high hopes for reviving the organization in 2022.
Fehr explained that COVID-19 has had a significant effect on their membership. The Citizens on Patrol Program, known as COPP, had upwards of 30 volunteers in the recent past.
But volunteers now number fewer than 15, and Fehr explained active patrols are being done by only a half dozen people.
“It’s at a critically low level,” Fehr said of the membership levels. “We’re having a difficult time recruiting people.”
Teniuk also called for more people to get involved in COPP in the Battlefords, and pledged to offer the RCMP’s support.
“We are on the cusp of an opportunity here. I don’t think we realize that,” said Teniuk.
He noted that it is only through community involvement that North Battleford will see a reduction in the city’s Crime Severity Index numbers. Teniuk pointed out that if they hired more cops, the CSI would simply go up because more arrests would be made.
“You’re never going to deal with a CSI with cops. That’s not how it works. The CSI gets dealt with through community engagement.”
Fehr pitched some ideas to the chamber on how the business community might help them increase memberships. One idea is for COPP to offer a gift card to those who meet their metrics in terms of completing training, or completing patrols, as an incentive to get people to join up.
Another idea Fehr pointed to was that some businesses in the community were “exceedingly community minded” and have policies where their employees provide hours to the community. That could provide another ready source of volunteers for COPP.
These ideas are at the conceptual stage right now, said Fehr. He added that the city and the RCMP were extremely supportive of what they were doing.
“What we lack are the bodies to make it work.”
Much of the discussion at the meeting focused on how to encourage recruitment and also allay any potential hesitancy. One issue raised was how to deal with safety concerns the public might have about getting involved.
Fehr did acknowledge there was a perception out there that Citizens on Patrol involves people driving around chasing people and trying to stop bullets.
“That’s absolutely the opposite of what we’re doing,” said Fehr. “We’re a set of eyes and ears and that’s literally all we do.”
Fehr described Citizens on Patrol as a group of men and women dedicated to safety, working in conjunction with RCMP and Community Safety Officers. Fehr said their members patrol in pairs in the community, and observe suspicious activities and report them to the appropriate law-enforcement agencies.
Fehr said they recently rejuvenated their graffiti program to spot and report graffiti so it can be removed. Citizens on Patrol also are behind the camera security registry initiative through the city, where people can have their security cameras registered.
Fehr said examples of calls that they do include having intoxicated drivers pulled over, phoning in reports of suspicious activity at ATMs, business alarms, gates or doors that are left open, calling in backyard fires and dealing with suspicious activities in homes and businesses.
It was noted that Mayor Gillan had himself signed on as a volunteer with Citizens on Patrol. At the meeting Gillan expressed his enthusiasm for increasing the number of volunteers with the organization, noting they already have enough RCMP and CSOs.
“We have the biggest RCMP detachment in the province, we have the biggest CSO complement in the province. What’s missing is volunteerism. What’s missing is boots on the ground — people who are willing to give one night a month. I’m signing up. We’re here today to talk about how many more people can we get into this organization because we need to have presence on the street.”
Gillan noted that as mayor he gets calls regularly about crime. One example he cited was an elderly couple who had five break-ins in a month, including one at 5:30 p.m. in broad daylight.
It was noted by Mayor Gillan and by City Manager Randy Patrick at the meeting that the city is experiencing a lot of break-ins and thefts. Gillan noted the RCMP were focused on the serious crimes but cited a need to look after those less serious offences as well. Gillan also noted that with property crimes, the criminals were organized, where criminals are on foot roaming the city, with a truck picking up the stolen goods within minutes. He touted the importance of COPP as a way to address those issues.
“It’s not just a little initiative, it’s a big initiative,” said Gillan. He added they “can’t rely on a couple of people anymore. The problem’s much bigger than that.”