Lyle Duffield was one of the original members of Citizens on Patrol when it started in Vernon 19 years ago. He sees the service as so valuable to the community that he has stayed with it.
“The volunteers are extra eyes and ears for the police. We are trained but we do not do police work. We report what we see to the police to deal with,” said Duffield, the owner of Hi Fi Attic.
“At the time Citizens on Patrol was formed, I owned Kelly’s Electronics on main street and there was a lot of really bad vandalism. Saturday mornings you would see windows smashed and trash all over. A bunch of us business owners complained to the police but they told us they couldn’t be everywhere and they needed help too.
“We decided to be part of the solution and formed Citizens on Patrol. We used to go out, in our own vehicles, evenings to keep an eye on what was happening. Things changed because no one knew who was watching them.”
The program has evolved and is now a City of Vernon program with cars supplied, overseen by the RCMP watch commander. The trained volunteers drive around the city in pairs, looking for anything unusual, watching for car or building break-ins, sometimes checking locks.
They also conduct speed watch checks with equipment that lets people know if they are speeding and leave reminders to car owners to keep valuables out of sight. The volunteers also provide extra police security at community events and are available to help in emergencies if the police need extra assistance. When the Citizens on Patrol report an incident, the police respond where their presence is required.
At the start, volunteers were mostly business owners, but now Citizens on Patrol includes people from all backgrounds.
“I volunteer because I want Vernon to be a great place for my family and friends and other businesses. I want my grandchild to grow up to be safe. I want to be able, when I’m 80 years old, to walk downtown to a park without being mugged,” said Duffield.
“This is not only the right thing to do for the community, but I have met some really interesting people over the years.”
Nettie Vinden started volunteering for Citizens on Patrol in January of this year.
“I didn’t realize that there was a program like this. It is such a good way to give back to the community. You meet an excellent group of people. It’s a great organization and well managed. People like to see us out on the street,” she said.
Citizens on Patrol is about area residents giving their time to help reduce criminal activity by being extra eyes and ears for the RCMP.
There are currently 50 volunteers in three programs and there is always a need for more volunteers.
“The Citizens on Patrol develop a sixth sense about vehicles, people and circumstances. They slow and look carefully and see what’s happening and they know who to call,” said Borisenko.
The program, run by the City of Vernon and North Okanagan RCMP detachment, helps with crime-related activities and is also there for other citizens who need help.
Last year, the volunteers were able to help someone who had fallen in the snow in an isolated area on a cold day and might not have been noticed otherwise.
The crime prevention statistics are impressive. In the first six months of 2011, they checked 13,869 B.C. licence plates against ICBC stolen car reports and were able assist in recovering 14 stolen vehicles locally. In the same time period, Citizens on Patrol put in 1,606 hours patrolling on 296 shifts, plus time spent at special events.
“These are exceptional volunteers and they are very qualified for what they do. It’s a very rewarding volunteer position and the volunteers keep learning though quarterly training meetings,” said Borisenko, who has a law enforcement background and sometimes goes on shifts with the volunteers.
The volunteers go through a criminal record check, an enhanced security check, and have an interview before taking classroom training and practical training doing shifts with experienced volunteers. Volunteers on car patrol do not have to leave the vehicle.
The volunteers are men and women of all ages and backgrounds, including some with police experience. Some people volunteer as a way to prepare for a career in police work. The time commitment is 60 hours a year with most volunteers doing more.
Volunteers can choose to go on the car patrols Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, or take part in the Speed Watch or Lock Out Auto Crime programs, which are done in partnership with ICBC.
“The city recognizes the value of these volunteers and assists them in every way it can. The mayor takes every opportunity he can to thank our volunteers and so does the management of the RCMP,” said Borisenko.
Inspector Jim McNamara is the RCMP operations officer for the Citizens on Patrol program.
“The citizens of Vernon/North Okanagan are very fortunate to have a dedicated group of volunteer Citizens on Patrol. The COP volunteers are an integral component of our crime prevention efforts in Vernon/North Okanagan.
“They are our extra eyes and ears on the streets who observe, record and report suspicious activities to our police officers,” he said.
“They contribute thousands of hours of their time patrolling our streets and have been directly responsible for the detection and recovery of numerous stolen vehicles.
“They also provide a visible deterrent through their involvement in our Speed Watch and Lock Out Auto Crime programs which assists us in reducing our theft from automobile and speeding complaints,” said Borisenko.
Borisenko hopes to be involved with the program for a long time to come.
“It’s very rewarding for me and for the volunteers when we can see that what we do actually makes a difference.
For example, Speed Watch calms traffic and improves safety by influencing up to 400 cars per hour going 80/90 KPH where they shouldn’t, to going 50/60 KPH,” he said.
For more information about Citizens on Patrol or to volunteer with them, contact Regan Borisenko, crime prevention coordinator for the Vernon/North Okanagan RCMP Crime Prevention/Safe Communities Unit at 250-550-7847 or firstname.lastname@example.org.