Crime prevention evolution in Chilliwack

The Crime Prevention Society has an idea to unite Chilliwack City Watch volunteers with auxiliary police officers for low-priority calls.

The Crime Prevention Society has an idea to unite Chilliwack City Watch (or 'Citizens on Patrol') volunteers (Karen Bunner

‘Citizens, return to your homes.’ That’s something you certainly won’t hear at the Chilliwack Crime Prevention office.

Formed in the mid-‘90s, the Chilliwack Crime Prevention Society has been organizing a variety of services and programs for ordinary citizens to get involved with public safety, the fight against crime, and to access RCMP services.

The Society is overseen by a volunteer board, currently led by RCMP Inspector Grant Wilson. Michelle Wulff supervises the teams of volunteers who have decided to take action in their community.

Supporting the RCMP, volunteers help to prevent and manage crime with programs like Block Watch, Citizens On Patrol, Speed Watch and more, the responsibilities for which have evolved greatly since they first started.

“The city has grown, and the expectations of the public are growing. That’s why it’s time for change,” Wilson said. One of their most important programs, Citizens on Patrol, is in the early stages of a significant upgrade.

With a forthcoming name change to ‘Chilliwack City Watch,’ Wilson and the board are re-thinking how best to utilize volunteer resources in productive ways that support the RCMP.

Back when Chilliwack’s auto theft rate was a primary concern, Citizens on Patrol focused its efforts on the recovery of stolen cars by patrolling hot spots and running vehicle plates. The auto theft rate has since decreased, and Wilson has proposed additional ways to get a better “bang for the buck” with finite volunteer resources.

His vision for City Watch is one that creates a complementary “synergy” between Crime Prevention volunteers and auxiliary police officers.

In response to shootings in New Brunswick, Ottawa, and Quebec which targeted uniformed personnel, the RCMP began a policy review process in 2014 to limit the role of all unarmed, volunteer mounties.

“The risk assessment was too great,” Wilson said. The uniformed “auxiliaries” can no longer patrol with general duty members on the street or in squad cars. Alternative uniform options are also under consideration.

Would those shooters, like the police-targeted incidents in Baton Rouge and Dallas earlier this month, have differentiated? That, Wilson says, is the type of lethal scenario that RCMP are trying to get ahead of.

The challenge now is finding roles for auxiliaries, including 18 currently on roster in Chilliwack, to participate in off the front-lines. An answer may be found in new community policing efforts.

Due to a higher level of security clearance and training, auxiliaries can attend watch briefings at RCMP detachments, access portable Mobile Data Terminals (MDT) which include files, reports and additional information, and communicate correctly with the Operation Communications Centre (OCC).

That enhanced access provides an opportunity to “marry” the auxiliary and City Watch programs, with the auxiliary officers serving as dispatchers.

City Watch volunteers are expected to be eyes and ears only. They travel in marked vehicles, equipped with radios, cell phones and flashlights, and typically patrol on night shifts.

Common scenarios highlight potential ways for volunteers to assist with low-priority calls while RCMP officers are swamped with high priority duties like active break and enters, MVIs, domestic disputes or impaired drivers.

Auxiliaries could dispatch City Watch volunteers to the un-checked house party complaint that officers haven’t been able to get to yet. Are they throwing bottles? Is it getting out of hand? Or are taxis out front and it appears to be wrapping up? They can confirm one way or another and the auxiliary can advise the officers if next steps are required.

If a person throws a rock through a business window in the night, and a constable determines it’s mischief rather than a theft, City Watch can be dispatched to wait at the property until the building is secured, allowing the officer to return to duty.

The tax-paying public wants their policing dollar to be used efficiently, Wilson acknowledged, and the proposed system is one way to do that.  “You free up a very expensive resource – a gun-toting, badge-carrying police officer – who now can […] get to those high priority calls,” he said.

The idea would better utilize City Watch volunteers and auxiliary officers, which in turn assists the RCMP constables as well.

They’re in the early stages of the proposed changes, with details expected to be worked out into the new year. “But that’s where we’re shooting, and we’ve got the interest,” Wilson said.

“If you’re prepared to come out and be a part of what we’re doing here, great. We’ve got room.”

To learn more about getting involved with City Watch or any of the other Crime Prevention Programs, drop by the office at 45877 Wellington Ave. or call 604-393-3012. Applicants must undergo a criminal-record check and training program.

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