The extra eyes and ears of the RCMP are running low on eyes and ears, and Barry Greenwood is hoping a membership drive gets the numbers back to where they need to be.
Greenwood, the volunteer coordinator of the Chilliwack Citizens on Patrol program, believes his program is a useful tool in the war against crime.
But right now, low numbers are limiting its effectiveness.
A schedule on Greenwood’s desk lays out the shifts in the weeks ahead, and there are too many spots unfilled. He likes to have four people available each Friday and Saturday night — one dispatcher working from the Chilliwack Crime Prevention Services office on Wellington Avenue, and two (ideally three) at a time taking shifts in the marked vehicle that prowls Chilliwack’s streets.
“Next Friday, I’m one person short for two vehicles,” he says, glancing at his schedule. “I’ve only got one team going out on Saturday and I have no dispatcher, so I’ll be doing that.
Greenwood has looked through old CCOP records. When the program started in 1997, it did so with 125 people.
He can only dream of what he could do with a small army like that.
But even with the limited manpower and resources, CCOP still finds difference-making moments.
“We run a stolen-auto recovery program for ICBC developed by the BC Crime Prevention Association,” Greenwood explains. “Using their data, which updates daily with 2,500 to 3,000 stolen vehicle license plates, we run checks. And occasionally we find one.”
A couple weeks ago, a CCOP patrol found a stolen car in the parking lot of a local Tim Hortons.
“It was actually parked right in front of a police car,” Greenwood chuckled. “The car had been stolen in Abbotsford and dumped out here.”
Greenwood recalls another night when a CCOP team may have saved a life.
“A team was patrolling near Watson elementary, and they noticed two guys at the back corner of the building with what looked to be a duffel bag on the ground,” Greenwood says. “Then they realized the duffel bag had boots.”
CCOP volunteers are normally instructed to stay in their vehicle, take notes and avoid confrontation where possible.
Except for emergencies.
In this case, two of the three volunteers wanted a closer look.
“They went and checked out the duffel bag, which turned out to be a very intoxicated teenager who had fallen and hit his head, and his friends had been kicking him to try and wake him up,” Greenwood says with an exasperated laugh. “They reported back to me and I reported to the detachment. A police vehicle and ambulance appeared very quickly, and I’d like to think the actions of our people possibly saved that kid’s life.”
Greenwood got involved in anti-crime initiatives in the mid-1990s.
Over one particularly bad summer, the Promontory resident saw the elementary school across the street from his house hit by a string of vandalism attacks.
Windows broken. The playground damaged. And nothing much being done about it.
It wasn’t just the school either. Nearby homes and vehicles were hit as well.
“The majority were intoxicated on alcohol or drugs, or both, and they were maliciously vandalizing the main building and the portables in the back,” Greenwood recalls. “So a group of local residents had a meeting one day, and we decided to form a walking group. We went out eight to 10 at a time and started confronting these teenagers who were doing it.”
Their in-your-face approach succeeded in getting the teenagers to move along.
The vandalism problem was solved, for a while.
But moving a problem along doesn’t end the problem, it just relocates it.
Five years ago, Greenwood and the remnants of that walking group joined CCOP, looking to make a difference city wide.
“Our oldest volunteer is in his early 80s, and our youngest just turned 19, and there are varied reasons for why they do it,” he says. “Some want to ultimately become police officers. Some do it as a civic service. All of them make time between family, work and school because they want to make Chilliwack a better place.”
Greenwood thinks the city has a somewhat undeserved reputation as a crime-riddled place.
There is crime. There are also people trying to stop it. And he’s a big believer in the thought that good will always triumph over evil.
“They don’t want to be visible and they operate in shadows,” he says. “I tell my people, ‘You may not see anybody. But they see you, and they’re moving.’ It may not be an end answer, but it’s a piece of the puzzle.”
Anyone interested in joining CCOP can phone 604-393-3000, email Chwkcop@gmail.com or visit the Chilliwack Crime Prevention Services office at 45877 Wellington Avenue.
Training is provided free of charge.