Although enthused to see people take it upon themselves to start their own neighbourhood watch program, Theo Reed contends the Citizens on Patrol program still needs to be restored.
The community steward served as captain for the Copper Cliff chapter of the Citizens on Patrol program for approximately four years until the pandemic shut the volunteer effort down.
The program, which cost Greater Sudbury Police Service approximately $58,000 per year, joined other volunteer services in shutting down when the pandemic began in early 2020, police spokesperson Kaitlyn Dunn told Sudbury.com.
The Citizens on Patrol program consisted of pairs of volunteers patrolling Greater Sudbury streets in refurbished former police cruisers, stripped of police lights and sporting Citizens on Patrol identifiers on the sides. Several groups were spread throughout the municipality.
“You would always be paired up in a vehicle, so during the pandemic there were concerns about people who are not necessarily from the same household being in a vehicle together,” Dunn said, adding that when city council sought a budget reduction the program was at the top of the list to be defunded.
The auxiliary program, which has uniformed volunteers conduct foot patrols, is the only one of these programs to restart. The Lions Eye in the Sky program, which has volunteers monitor downtown cameras, is expected to join the Citizens on Patrol programs in coming up for potential restoration during the police board’s 2023 budget deliberations.
With Citizens on Patrol remaining in limbo, Ward 6 candidate Scott Seguin has started his own neighbourhood watch program with a handful of fellow volunteers on their own dime to patrol the Valley during the early morning hours.
Although supportive of the sentiment behind Seguin’s efforts, Reed said they are a “little worrisome.”
While the Citizens on Patrol vehicles provided to volunteers for patrol are clearly identifiable by their decals, he said unmarked vehicles patrolling the streets with their windows down might draw unwanted attention.
“I know if I was out in the middle of the night and saw a strange unmarked car patrolling the streets, I would take the licence plate and report it to the police,” he said, adding this might create unnecessary work for police.
It’s a relief to learn city police are looking at the possibility of reinstating the Citizens on Patrol program, Reed said. While he understands why the program was put on hold when the pandemic began, he believes there’s less reason for it now that restrictions have been pretty much entirely lifted.
“If they don’t have it in their budget to reinstate it, it’s a sad situation because petty crime will increase,” he said.
The fleet of Citizens on Patrol vehicles volunteers once used have since been sold. In the event program funding were reinstated, Dunn said city police would need to divert some former police vehicles headed to public auction toward the program.
The city will also need to begin enlisting volunteers, Reed said, estimating that of the 150 people who volunteered with the Citizens on Patrol and downtown cameras program, approximately half have handed in their uniforms.
In addition to conducting regular patrols, volunteers attended public events where they helped educate the public about what Citizens on Patrol was all about, alongside safety tips.
“When the public is aware of this extra service, it does remind them to be more vigilant about protecting their own properties as well.”
Although city council as a whole has limited say in how the police budget is configured beyond the total municipal contribution figure, two members of city council sit on the decision-making police board, including chair Al Sizer (Ward 8) and Joscelyne Landry-Altmann (Ward 12).
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.