A band of volunteers, armed with equipment like night vision binoculars and software to scan for stolen vehicles, covertly patrol the Sooke region to help deter crime.
The Citizens on Patrol Sooke currently has 20 members who act as additional ‘eyes and ears’ for local RCMP.
In one evening, the COPS will travel 50 to 60 km by car a night, carefully monitoring school yards, locked facilities, parking lots, business properties and areas noted to have high crime rates.
They also perform stationery and on foot surveillance, and act as traffic controllers when required.
The COPS do not have jurisdiction to enforce the law, but report situations that warrant police attention to RCMP officers on duty.
John Armitage, COPS president, said most evenings are fairly quiet.
“Some people might even say it’s boring, but not seeing anything is pretty good,” he said. “It means everything is okay.”
He stated the COPS do not want to be police officers — they simply want to help make Sooke a safer place to live.
“We’re not cops and we’re not vigilantes or anything of that nature. We’re simply additional observers for the police.”
Their dedication is clear. Armitage and his COPS colleague, Gunter Rieper, both stated that even without the $20 gas vouchers issued per shift, they would still do the job on their own dime.
Over the years, Armitage and Rieper have seen many quiet nights, but have also seen their position as patrollers prevent situations that could’ve ended up for the worse.
Armitage said one night on duty, he encountered a senior man walking around on a late and stormy night, clearly lost and disoriented.
“(We) got him home safe and sound,” he said.
Staff Sgt. Steve Wright commended their work and assistance to the RCMP.
“They’re a great dedicated group of volunteers, who go out on their own time without any funding from us to assist us, which is marvellous,” he said.
“When we have an area that’s experiencing a high crime rate for theft or vandalism, they do patrols and stationary surveillance for us at those locations,” Wright said. “And again, a great assistance because they’re acting as the eyes and ears for us.”
Another component of the volunteer program is Speed Watch.
Using industrial-sized signs that detect speeds of oncoming vehicles, Speed Watch monitors traffic areas like school zones for the purposes of public education.
The COPS work in units of two on Friday and Saturday nights from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. Shifts are, on occasion, extended depending on the need and there is usually one patrol unit per night.
Armitage said the COPS are always looking for more volunteers. To join, interested parties can contact the Sooke RCMP detachment at 250-642-5241. Volunteers can opt to be a member of Speed Watch, COPS or both.