Original Published on Jul 21, 2022 at 23:45

By Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Ste. Agathe Citizens on Patrol coordinator Sylvie Dorge is putting out a call for help: the program needs more volunteers.

The community’s COPP currently has approximately nine resident volunteers. According to Dorge, however, during the summer months that number should be double that due to the regular rotation of people on vacation.

“We would take whatever we can get at this point, because I know people are quite busy,” Dorge says.

The program offers complete flexibility in terms patrol frequency, and days and times when a person can work a shift into their schedule. Patrols go out in teams of two, so couples or pairs of friends are welcome. Interested individuals can also help and would be paired with another individual.

“We basically have our list of volunteers and they tell us when they’d like to go out,” says Dorge. “Some of them are retired, so they like to go out at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning for their shift.”

The establishment of the Manitoba COPP (MCOPP) dates back to 1991. The program was an initiative of municipal law enforcement agencies and Manitoba Justice with the goal of making communities safer.

Today, MCOPP still works to partner with volunteer coordinators in communities across the province. The organization provides support through the provision of information, training, basic equipment, and networking opportunities.

Each active COPP is partnered with their local RCMP or police detachment. Volunteers are expected to patrol their towns in vehicles or on foot, effectively becoming the eyes and ears of the community. They are outfitted with reflective vests and magnetic car door signs so they are easily identifiable.

The risk is minimal, since volunteers are discouraged from becoming directly involved if mischief or a crime is detected. Rather, details of the incident are reported to the police liaison for further investigation.

Whether a specific crime is averted or not, details of suspicious activity are still useful as they are logged by the police and often prove helpful in locating repeat criminals later on.

There are currently 50 active COPP groups in Manitoba, including Ste. Agathe. But the success of the program relies heavily on volunteerism, both on the organizational end of things as well as boots on the ground.

Dorge states that, statistically, crimes tend to occur late at night or very early in the morning. For this reason, volunteers who take overnight shifts are extremely useful in reducing crime.

Even so, when COPP volunteers become a visible presence in the community at any time of day, it serves to remind everyone that the area has an active neighbourhood watch program in effect.

As far as Dorge is aware, there has only been one reported incident of suspicious activity in the community since the program began last November. Outside of that, things have been fairly quiet.

Of course, one could ask if the lack of mischief and crime is a direct result of patrols. Either way, it can’t hurt.

Dorge believes in the effectiveness of the program, especially when coupled with efforts the RM of Ritchot has made to curb crime across the municipality.

“We do have the Commissionaires as well,” says Dorge, referring to the paid patrol company hired by the RM. “I don’t know if it has to do with that, but apparently… the crime rate has gone down by 60 percent.”

Dorge refers to a recent report provided to Ritchot’s council by Sergeant Guy Landreville of the St. Pierre RCMP detachment. Reporting on crime statistics for 2021, Landreville said that reported crime in all areas of the RM was down from the year before. Decreases ranged anywhere from 17 to 70 percent, depending on the area.

Ste. Agathe saw a 62 percent decrease in reported crime.

But while Dorge works hard to keep the program afloat in Ste. Agathe, other communities have had no active COPP programs for the past couple of years.

In 2016, Île-des-Chênes resident Marianne Curtis organized a Ritchot COPP program with the hope of establishing a group in each community. Curtis also coordinated the IDC group.

Volunteers were rounded up and the program ran until 2019. When Curtis retired as the coordinator, the program died.

Ste. Agathe was successful in restarting their program in 2021, but even now Dorge says it’s not easy. She originally took on the volunteer position of assistant COPP coordinator. The main program coordinator has since moved away from the province, leaving Dorge to go solo.

The main coordinator position, she says, is available for anyone wishing to get involved in the administration end of things.

As for Curtis’s years as COPP coordinator, she says that locating enough volunteers was always a concern.

“Everyone wants COPP, but they don’t actually want to dedicate the hours to patrolling,” says Curtis. “I really hope [we] can get it going [again].”

This item reprinted with permission from The Citizen, Niverville, Manitoba