A lot of the same people who got on board with the Citizens On Patrol program 16 years ago are still going strong, says Caro Gengembre.
However, she added, many of them, seniors when the program began, have had to hang up their scanners as age took its toll.
That’s a problem for the COPs group, which finds itself short of names to call when it comes time to assign patrols.
“At one point we had 150 people in Qualicum Beach alone when we started,” Gengembre said. “Now we have 35 in Qualicum Beach. As of December we are down to 129 for Parksville, Bowser, Nanoose Bay, Qualicum Beach, Parksville, Coombs and Errington.”
The Citizens On Patrol program involves volunteers fanning out across the area, serving as extra sets of eyes and ears for local police. If they see something amiss, they call it in and then hang back and let the police do their job.
They’ve covered a lot of miles and made quite a few calls over the course of those 16 years and have provided invaluable service. However, many of them are getting older now and not enough younger residents have stepped forward to fill the ranks.
“The original people have aged 16 years and they were retirees to start with,” Gengembre said. “I think age is a huge factor.”
John Bishop does the staffing for the Parksville area and he summed up the problem succinctly.
“Right now, the need is 20 times more and we have 20 times less volunteers,” he said. “There’s a lack of visibility, so a lot of people don’t know we’re there. If you don’t know what we contribute to the community, why would you join?”
The COPs volunteers, he said, have keyed in thousands of licence plates into their special computers and they’ve had their share of hits.
“Two of our people were coming down between the veterinarian and Sexcessories one night and keyed in some plates which showed it was a stolen car,” he said. “The police got him, but it turns out the car wasn’t stolen, but he stole someone’s plates and put them on his car. He was taken off the road that night.”
Besides looking for trouble, the COPs also work on preventing crimes before they happen. One way they do this, Bishop said, is to look at parked vehicles and, if there is a problem — such as valuables left in plain sight, unlocked doors or a big buildup of insurance stickers — they leave a note under the windshield wiper to let the owner know they might want to be more careful in future.
Bishop said the time commitment is not onerous and he urged residents to join up and help the police keep residents secure.
Anyone who would like to get involved should drop by their local community policing office to sign up.