Citizen's Patrol out in full force on rodeo weekend
Volunteer patrol is extra eyes and ears for community
Wednesday, May 28, 2014 06:00 am
Citizen's Patrol will be at the public safety open house on June 8 from 1 to 4 p.m., at St. Albert Place.
To learn more, visit: http://citizenspatrol.org/
If you attended the rodeo this past weekend, you probably felt pretty safe.
Security checked bags at the gates, RCMP cruisers patrolled the surrounding streets and a helicopter circled the fairgrounds from above.
But there was also someone keeping tabs on your neighbourhood – making sure your garage door wasn’t left open, your wallet wasn’t left in plain sight on the dashboard of your car and making sure rodeo-goers got home in one piece.
Those extra sets of eyes and ears were those of St. Albert’s Citizen’s Patrol, a group of volunteers who keep a lookout for any suspicious activity that might be on city streets, school grounds or trails.
Their two busiest times of the year are rodeo and Halloween, when they don their neon vests and take to the streets on foot, on bikes or in their vehicles.
“The whole idea behind our patrol is visibility,” said Brian Andersen, president of Citizen’s Patrol. “People see us; we’re in your face.”
The group’s mandate is to be non-confrontational. Their job is to observe and, if something looks criminal, they call the RCMP.
“We’re not trained to get in the mix and get our hands dirty,” said Andersen.
But that doesn’t mean that at times they aren’t treated like police.
“The hope is that people react to us like a marked police car. They behave themselves and think twice about doing anything criminal,” added Andersen.
Sometimes the job even comes with police hours.
One of Evan Vanveen’s busiest nights kept him out from 8 p.m. until 4 a.m.
On that late summer night, Vanveen called RCMP eight times to make several reports, including a two-vehicle collision on St. Albert Trail, drunk teenagers plucking the letters off a road sign outside a pet store and a smashed window at a gas station.
Most nights are very quiet and patrol members don’t come across anything suspicious, Andersen said.
“St. Albert is safe and we would like to keep it that way.”
Patrol members always head out in pairs. Shifts are typically a couple of hours in length in the evenings and sometimes during the day on weekends.
“You never know what you’re preventing,” said Debbie Stephens, treasurer for the group.
Likewise, you never know who you’re going to help.
Citizen’s Patrol has returned lost dogs to their owners and, one time, a lost teen who was new to the St. Albert area back to her home, explained Stephens.
They have also tracked possible impaired drivers, reported stolen property and helped direct traffic when RCMP officers were tied up dealing with a vehicle crash.
St. Albert resident Nancy Nelson founded Citizen’s Patrol in 1998. The goal was to reduce property crimes such as vandalism and theft. The former plagued the Grandin neighbourhood in the late ’90s.
Remnants of public drinking and drug use are the most common types of criminal behaviour that patrollers encounter these days, said Vanveen.
At 26, he is one of the younger members of Citizen’s Patrol, which now has about 40 members. He has been volunteering on and off for the past eight years.
“It’s important to have a close-knit community where everyone feels safe. One way to do that is to be part of Citizen’s Patrol,” Vanveen said.
Stephens has been a member for nearly 16 years. Meeting new people and making new friends is a large part of her commitment to the group.
“They didn’t tell me when I started that this would be a position for life,” she said.