Joanne Egan slips around Sidney and North Saanich streets seemingly unnoticed. She always has a partner in the car seat next to her and a cellphone on hand.
“You’re alert, you’re looking,” she says. “I’m always exhausted the next day.”
Egan is a member of the Citizens on Patrol Society that keeps watch over the area.
“We get in our own vehicles and we drive around for four hours,” she says. “Anything we see that’s out of the ordinary, we call it in and the police take over.”
On nearly every shift Egan makes a call to dispatch to report something. The volunteers are always on the lookout for the obvious – such as illegal beachfires – or situations where their intuition throws up a red flag.
Egan and her husband started volunteering after retirement. In her career, Egan worked in a civilian capacity alongside police and felt the COPS program was a good fit.
“I wanted to give back to the community,” she says.
“It’s a very nice feeling to be patrolling in this community. It feels like a very safe community to me.”
The first patrol went out in July 2009, in response to Sidney-North Saanich RCMP’s tackling of the vandalism problem.
“We started as a result of Sgt. (Wayne) Conley’s desire for a patrol program to be a set of eyes and ears for the uniformed members,” says society president and founding member Bill Rothery, who worked 22 years as a civil member with the Esquimalt Police Department.
In conjunction with the Town of Sidney and the town’s Police Advisory Committee, of which Rothery was a member, they researched and implemented COPS.
“It’s a partnership between the town, police and volunteers, collaborating together to enhance public safety and reduce property crime,” says Conley. “Right from the get-go, there was total support from the Town of Sidney. They made it a priority.”
The objectives for COPS are to reduce crime against property and people, reduce graffiti and enhance traffic and pedestrian safety.
“They help focus on some specific areas to make the community safer,” Conley says.
Alongside other policing strategies, the volunteer program is having an impact, he says, with three straight years of reductions in vandalism.
“It’s very difficult to measure … but what I see is we have volunteers who care about their community. And we know that the community and police have to work together. It’s an added enhancement to policing.”
At the start of a shift the volunteers go out with a bag of supplies: flashlights, fire extinguisher, high-visibility vest, clipboard with report forms and a gas card, GPS and computer. With the laptop, COPS volunteers participate in the Stolen Auto Recovery program run by ICBC. They routinely check license plates in search of stolen cars.
At the end of the shift, the volunteers complete an observations report that goes back to the local detachment, providing another resource for officers.
While Rothery and Egan have worked alongside police agencies before, that experience isn’t necessary. Volunteers are interviewed, asked to submit to a police background check, then trained before heading out on a COPS shift.
For more information or to volunteer call Egan at 250-655-2927 or Rothery at 250-656-9293.