By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Armed with nothing more than a pen and paper, cell phone, flashlight, police scanner, and a couple cups of coffee, a small number of local residents regularly take to the streets of Morinville and Cardiff after dark, keeping their eyes and ears open for what doesn’t look and sound right. They’re Citizens on Patrol (COP), a civilian watch organization that has been operating in Morinville since 1997. Over the past decade-and-a-half, the volunteer group have been doing their part for community policing in Morinville.
COP volunteer Randy Jordan brought his organization’s story to the Morinville RCMP Citizen’s Academy Mar. 5, giving a half hour presentation on what COP volunteers do and don’t do while out on patrol.“What we do is observe and report only,” Jordan said, adding if something looks funny or suspicious, they call it in to dispatch without getting directly involved.
Over the years the local COP have reported on a number of things they’ve witnessed while on patrol in Morinville, including drug possession, fires, impaired drivers, and vandalism. It is stuff Jordan said is neither dramatic nor gory, but activity going on in Morinville nonetheless.
The Morinville RCMP detachment has a large area to cover, one that includes 24 communities and covers approximately 2,000 square kilometres. As such, RCMP officers simply cannot be everywhere at every moment of the day. With 500 crimes reported in Morinville in 2011, COP provides some extra help for a detachment that has some large ground to cover.
Jordan said COP volunteers patrol all residential, recreational, commercial and industrial areas of Morinville and Cardiff, but do not venture into rural territory. Patrol units include two volunteers – a driver and an observer. Although the majority of patrols are by car or truck, the COP also conducts foot and bicycle patrols, particularly in Morinville’s recreational areas.
While erratic drivers are the most common thing the local watch organization observes, they’ve spotted the odd drug deal or two in the works. “They happen fast – really, really fast,” Jordan said. “They’re hard to see unless you are looking for them, but it’s surprising how often you’ll spot them. It’s really quite surprising.”
Not all about patrols
Jordan said COP members spent 900 hours volunteering with the organization in 2011. Of that time approximately 200 hours was spent patrolling the streets and alleys of Morinville and Cardiff. Approximately 12 active volunteers logged 1,800 kilometres observing the two communities.
While patrolling is COP’s principal purpose, they are also active in educating the community about crime and how to prevent it. “The idea is if we teach people how to be aware and what to look for, they are not so apt to be a victim of crime further down the road,” Jordan explained. “It’s easier to prevent than to repair afterwards.”
That education component takes a variety of forms. Each Christmas members of the COP patrol parking lots in Morinville, leaving tip tickets under car windshield wipers. The ticket-shaped document offers an assessment of the vehicle owner’s risk level and advice on hiding packages and other vehicle-related security tips. Throughout the year the COP set up in school zones and other areas of town with their speed sign, allowing motorists to see their own speed as they pass by local schools. Additionally, the group offers educational sessions by inviting crime experts to town to speak on a variety of topics, including drugs, frauds and scams, internet predators and other topics.
Looking for members
Jordan explained that it is difficult for the group to conduct patrols every weekend with their current membership, approximately 12 active volunteers.
The organization is looking to increase its number, but he is quick to explain the time commitment is not cumbersome. Volunteers are required to offer one two-hour patrol shift per month and attend the organization’s monthly meeting, usually less than two hours in length.
The COP volunteer said one of the reasons the organization does not have a larger pool of volunteers is recognition. “We’re the best kept secret in Morinville,” Jordan said. “For the longest time nobody knew about us. Word is getting out there.”
Another reason for the low membership levels is attributed to Morinville being a young community, one in which parents with young children may not have time to volunteer. But he encourages participation for those who have a small amount of time and an interest in law and order.
“It’s certainly interesting [volunteer] work,” Jordan said. “It’s always interesting. Even when there’s nothing happening, you’re going out on patrol and you’re chatting with somebody else. It can be fun. We’re not eagle eyes all the time, nervously waiting for something to happen. If law and order isn’t your thing, it’s not going to be very entertaining, but the things you see; the behaviours that you see; the things you hear – it is an astounding look at human behaviour.”
Participation in Morinville’s Citizens on Patrol is open to residents and non-residents 18 years of age and older. Applicants must conduct an RCMP criminal check at no cost, after which they will be on a three-month probationary period within the COP.