Lacombe resident Ed L’Ecluse has grown so tired of people complaining about crime, he’s decided to spearhead the establishment of a Citizens on Patrol (COP) unit in the community.
Whether it actually turns into a COP unit, or something unique to Lacombe, remains to be seen.
Either way, it’s all about making Lacombe a more community-connected, safer city to live in.
It’s not that there’s a huge wave of criminality enveloping the young city of about 13,000 people. In fact, Statistics Canada’s Crime Severity Index (overall) 2013 statistics show Lacombe at 66.44, with 100 being the standardized index for all of Canada.
To put this in perspective, Red Deer’s crime severity index is 156.79, Rocky is 134.21, Blackfalds is 82.24, and Sylvan Lake is 79.21. Alberta, overall, is 83.68.
The crime severity index includes all Criminal Code violations including traffic, drug violations and all federal statutes.
“It’s a very safe community,” L’Ecluse, a 42-year-old pipefitter, says about his city.
But citizens can still take action and make it better, instead of complaining on social media for example, he said.
“We don’t talk to our neighbours anymore so I’ve made a point of myself of going out and talking to all my neighbours around me, getting to know them, I shovel the sidewalks for people … I’ve got a cake on my table right now from a lady that thanked me for the shovelling. It’s fantastic. I’m loving getting to know my neighbours,” L’Ecluse said.
“Everyone wants to complain about it yet do you know your neighbours? Do you talk to your neighbours? When I was a kid (he grew up in Leduc) I couldn’t go down the street and go throw a rock at a house or punch some kid in the face. It wouldn’t happen because it would get back to my parents in five minutes flat. Now nobody knows who these kids belong to.”
Recently L’Ecluse held a couple of public meetings to see if there was interest in establishing something like COP, which involves citizen pairs patrolling streets at night in vehicles, watching for criminal activity. Members do not try to apprehend anyone. They call police.
Last week 10 people showed up for the meeting. More meetings are scheduled this month, on Wednesday, as well as Feb. 24 and 25, all at 6 p.m. at the Lacombe fire hall.
L’Ecluse is also exploring the possibility of an enhanced community watch program.
“It’s going to be part community watch, citizens on patrol, we’re going to see where we can go with it. It’s at least going to be a community watch involving seniors.”
He points out that seniors are more aware of what’s going on in their neighbourhood because they are home most of the time.
As for COP, if it gets going, “Vandalism and stolen vehicles are problems … if you see someone in a car lot at 2 a.m. they are probably not shopping for a car.”
L’Ecluse has not been a victim of crime — he decided to get more involved in his community because he’s now an “empty-nester”.
Lacombe Police Chief Steve Murray said there’s no single solution to keeping a community safe.
“It has to be a collaborative effort between the police service and community groups and social agencies and every citizen. If we send the message out we want Lacombe to be the safe community it is and keep it that way, it’s not up to a small group of police officers and it’s not up to a small group of engaged citizens, it’s up to everybody.”
“We’ll see what specific format the group takes but what I encouraged them to do as opposed to putting teams of two out in vehicles patrolling, which a lot of COP programs do, is why don’t you start in your individual neighbourhoods with something so basic as lock your car doors at night, lock your house doors at night.
“It’s not a question of ‘Well I shouldn’t have to because it’s a safe place.’ … You shouldn’t have to wear your seatbelt because you’re a safe driver but it still makes sense if you do it. And then reach out to your neighbours, actually get to know who they are. And then go a step further and get to know your neighbourhood,” Murray said.
“It’s the presence of good people that drives criminality away.”
“Any time we can engage the community is good … all these programs are geared toward the same thing. … If we need to put a name to it to engage these people and get them motivated to do their part then I’m totally in support of it,” said Murray
If COP does get going, Murray said the police department will have clearly laid out guidelines for the group.
L’Ecluse recently started the Facebook page “Lacombe Citizens On Patrol, Taking back Lacombe”, which has about 230 members already. The group also has an email address — firstname.lastname@example.org — for those who don’t do Facebook.