Two men in dark blue windbreakers stand in a parking lot of marked cars, deciding which vehicle to take on their patrol.
Yellow letters—COP—emblazoned on their coats indicate their affiliation, and after a bit of deliberating, it’s decided they’ll take the Chevrolet Impala.
The car isn’t marked RCMP, but does display the same decal letters on their windbreakers—COP.
Jason Whiting and Rakesh Upreti have been part of Lloydminster’s Citizens on Patrol (COP) for roughly three years and six months respectively, helping serve as a second set of eyes and ears for the local police.
“One of our things is to not get involved, unless of course it’s a life or death situation and somebody is hurt on the ground, you might want to assist,” said Whiting.
“But it’s all about just getting out there, being on the road, and being present.”
The COP has been operating in the Border City since 1999 after a group of citizens were tired of what they saw as a high crime rate around town.
Because the RCMP can only be in so many places at any given time, the group decided to lend a hand by patrolling the streets and keeping a watchful eye for suspicious behaviour.
There were only about eight or nine members in the beginning, then within two years the number grew closer to 30 before declining again in 2006 to five members.
President Greg Mathias said he’s not sure of the reason for the drop in membership, but since he became president last year and started recruiting through resources like social media, the COP are now 34-members strong.
“I think it was mostly just due to them trying to be a very closed group of people,” he said of the drop in numbers.
“They didn’t really want anyone knowing about them because they wanted to remain anonymous, and so when I joined, I said ‘We need more members, this just isn’t working.’
“And so I kind of became the spokesman for the group and started putting it on social media; that’s how we started growing our numbers again.”
Thousands of kilometres
Since October last year, the COP have put in 552 hours and 11,847 kms of patrols on Lloydminster’s streets.
Those patrols have led to 132 hot phone tips relayed to the RCMP.
The group go out equipped with basic gear: a scanner to monitor what’s happening in the city, a first aid kit, a flashlight, and a note pad to document the patrols.
This is all that’s required as the COP mandate is to simply observe and report.
The patrols are always made up of at least two members, a driver and a co-pilot who can listen to the scanner and take notes if needed.
“We usually ask the (RCMP) dispatch if there’s anything going on; sometimes there’s some hotspots and sometimes in the evenings they know of something to watch for, so they’ll let us know and get an idea of where to check out,” Whiting said from the backseat, as Upreti makes a smooth merge onto 44 street.
“Or maybe they’ve had a rash of break-ins in the industrial park area or something.”
The organization also does business checks at night when members check out commercial and industrial businesses to make sure the properties are well-lit and secured.
Members carry special cards just for this purpose, on which they write the details of the scene and leave for the owners to look over the following morning.
And when missing persons calls come in, the COP are often alerted and asked to join the search party.
Upreti pulls the car into the Princess Auto parking lot and slowly maneuvers around the perimeter looking for anything suspicious.
There’s nothing much to see except a man buying some grub at a food truck and few folks confabbing outside the neighbouring Rona outlet, which is a good thing because the less action, the more secure the neighbourhood.
The truth is, the volunteer position of being a COP member isn’t always that exciting, which may speak to the effectiveness of the organization and the RCMP crime reduction strategy as a whole.
Drunk driver caught
From the driver seat, Upreti recalls one of the more exciting patrols he’s been on since joining up.
“We have seen a couple guys driving drunk with a company vehicle that hit and run, then parked at their boss’s house,” he said amusingly.
“He hit a parked car, he was drunk I guess, and parked the vehicle in front of his boss’s house and was trying to walk home.”
The call was put over the radio for Upreti’s patrol to follow the drunk driver at a distance until the RCMP arrived.
Insp. Suki Manj said the group plays a huge roll in what the RCMP is trying to accomplish with its goals at the detachment, describing them as a huge resource for the police.
The COP is made up completely from volunteers, so the resource also comes at very little cost to the city.
“They’re an invaluable tool to us,” said Manj.
“They have local knowledge, they’re part of the crime reduction strategy that we’ve implemented here—it’s a very vital part that goes hand-in-hand with our program.”
The COP is also 100 per cent funded by donation and they often hold community barbecues and offer a Safe Ride Home program to raise money for operations.
Safe Ride Home is a program where companies can hire COP members as designated drivers to make sure all employees get home safe from company parties and functions serving alcohol.
Mathias said the COP don’t need a lot of funding, with most of their costs coming in the form of gas and vehicle maintenance.
“Over the past few months the support from the community has been amazing,” said Mathias.
Over the past few months, COPS has obtained three vehicles, several new members, and a handful of financial contributions all thanks to the Lloydminster community.
As for the future of the group, Mathias said he hopes to double the numbers in the near future and have enough patrols to cover the entire day.
“I hope it expands,” he said.
“I’d like to see at least 50 to 60 members and making patrols almost 24 hours a day; that’s my goal.”
Whiting and Upreti’s patrol ends without incident, the two members pull the Impala, with the COP markings brightly displayed on the exterior, into the RCMP detachment parking lot before marking the kilometre reading down for record.
Anyone interested in becoming a COP member can go down to the RCMP detachment on the 5100 block of 44 Street, fill out an application and get a police record check done free of charge.
If you’d like to show your support, the COP is hosting a thank you barbecue at the gazebo outside of the RCMP detachment June 8.