Police hoping to rebuild COP program

Changes to how Citizens on Patrol and the RCMP have worked together in the past has caused the number of volunteers to drop.

Changes to how Citizens on Patrol and the RCMP have worked together in the past several years has caused the number of volunteers in the community to drop, until this year when the organization didn’t renew its membership.

The loss of Citizens on Patrol — or COP, as they’re known — is a blow to the community, and something the Stettler RCMP said it hoped to turn around.

“They’re a great group to have in the community,” Cpl. Cameron Russell said.

With a large detachment area to cover — from Boss Hill Road in the north to Highway 589 in the south, and from Highway 21 in the west to the County of Stettler boundary shortly before Halkirk in the east — it can put strain on the detachment’s eight constables, two corporals and a sergeant. The volunteer COPs helped out by keeping an eye out for odd behaviour and calling it in to police.

Const. Carter Boytinck has been the liaison between Stettler COP and the detachment for the past three years, though he said the program has been running in Stettler for several years, “well before my time here.”

“Through observation, documentation and reporting, members of COP provide a presence in their community while patrolling by vehicle, on foot, by bicycle or other means,” Boytinck said. “(They’re) educated volunteers who increase the awareness of suspicious and dangerous or unusual activities happening in the community.”

COP is not part of the RCMP or any other policing agency, but when the Alberta Citizens on Patrol Association (ACOPA) was formed years ago, the RCMP helped as a consultant, working in conjunction with ACOPA to develop training programs designed to help the volunteers be good eyes and ears in the community, remain safe and secure, and not compromise themselves, others or evidence.

Lance Penny, who was director of Stettler COP when it folded due to low membership, said that the training manual and additional training opportunities was informative and fun to do. A former member of Canada’s military, Penny said the need to serve and protect runs in his veins — something he passed on to his son, Phil, who recently returned to lead Stettler’s RCMP detachment as its new Sergeant.

The elder Penny said it would be nice to have COP up and running again, but admitted if it was reborn, he would likely not want another turn as director, instead hoping to pass on the torch to another.

“I think my wife would be happier,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m retired now.”

During his years in COP, Penny said he saw the local organization change its focus from being discreet eyes and ears to being more visible, a walking deterrent. And that change worked well.

“People would see us in our vests and our hats, and they’d come and talk to us,” he said. “We’d find out all sorts of interesting things.”

At one point, Penny and others in the groups would do patrols by bicycle, something that earned them some laughs from some elements of the community. Penny, however, insists that the cycling was a very positive experience not just for the volunteers, who got an excellent workout, but the community as well.

“People would tell us they felt safer, knowing people were out keeping their eyes open,” he said. “They’d see us and just feel better about it.”

“(They) are a valuable community group active throughout the year,” Boytinck said. “Stettler COP have assisted the Stettler RCMP detachment on several occasions.”

Anyone who is interested should contact Boytinck at the Stettler RCMP detachment. A background check and interview will be conducted to all those who apply, and applicants must be 18-years or older, and have an active Alberta Driver Licence. The detachment can be reached between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 403-742-3382.