vCOPs help keep Côte Saint-Luc safe
vCOPS they may be, but cops they are not
Long gone are the days of the cop on the beat, someone who knew everyone in the neighbourhood and what was going on – the good and the bad. People felt safe when the badge was around.
Neighbourhoods, once tightly packed tenements where everyone knew their neighbour and what was going on, have given way to spacious suburbs, where people seek privacy. But the need for someone to keep an eye out hasn’t changed – in fact, with people living private distances from each other, there’s a greater need.
vCOPS in the neighbourhood
That’s where vCOPS comes in.
“We go up and down the street looking for open garage doors because in Côte Saint-Luc, garages are attached to the house. If someone gets in the garage, they can get in the house,” says vCOPS Ellen Meunier describing just one of the many duties she and her fellow vCOPS – all volunteers – perform.
Spotting an open garage door, a vCOP will knock at the front door and if no one’s home, they call Côte Saint-Luc Public Security and an officer will come by and close the garage door.
Other duties – to name but a few – include patrolling parks and helping a disoriented citizen find their way home or get emergency care.
“If EMS takes someone to hospital and that person can’t get home, we will pick them up and take them home,” she says. Like a good neighbour vCOPS are there.
Locals who go south for the winter can sign up to have members drop by their home when they are away to check and see if anything’s wrong. They look for things like broken windows or footsteps in the snow and pass the information up the security ladder.
All in a day’s and night’s work. Because the roughly 82 volunteers work – both day and night shifts as well as weekends, come rain or shine, blizzards or heat waves.
Each volunteer is expected to put in six hours a month. Most find that easy to do. In fact, when the vCOPS bug bites, some put in a lot more time.
In addition to patrol work, Meunier is a scheduler and a supervisor.
“I’m in constant contact with our members. I enjoy communicating with people and making sure that everything is running smoothly.”
vCOPS, but not cops
vCOPS help Côte Saint-Luc Public Security, EMS and the Montreal PD. Members act as the eyes and ears of law enforcement and emergency services. Their visibility in their orange and green uniforms and their orange and green marked vans or scooters, deters crime and lets people in the neighbourhood know there is someone there if there’s a need or an emergency.
Asked if the work is dangerous, Meunier is quick with an answer. “No,” she says.
“If we see someone doing something wrong, we call public security. We don’t intervene. We call dispatch and they call public security. We act as the eyes and ears of the emergency services.”
In the summer, residents can spot members patrolling on scooters.
“When you’re on scooter patrol, everyone stops to chat with us. This way you get to speak to the people you’re protecting.”
The slow pace of the patrols whether in a van or on a scooter lets the members spot things a faster-moving police cruiser might not.
Former Côte Saint-Luc city councillor Glen Nashen was vacationing in Florida 18 years ago when he noticed a van emblazoned with the logo “Citizens On Patrol.” Curious, he went to the local sheriff’s office and found out.
“I thought it was a fantastic idea for Côte Saint-Luc,” Nashen recalls. “People had been complaining for years that the level of security in Côte Saint-Luc wasn’t what it used to since the local police had been removed in the ’70s.”
To make up for it, the city had created the EMO and the Public Security Department for bylaw enforcement. But Nashen reasoned that there was a gap that the vCOPS could fill – someone to “patrol the city to observe and report any suspicious activities or problems.”
As a city councillor, Nashen made it his priority and he succeeded. On July 1, 2006, the Volunteer Citizens on Patrol (vCOP) was launched. The first of its kind in Quebec.
Becoming a vCOP
Members must be at least 18 – some are well into their ‘80s – and be residents of Côte Saint-Luc.
Since the work can be physically demanding, they have to be in good shape. Of course, they must pass a security check.
Basic training includes courses in communication and patrolling skills, crime prevention and first aid.
Trainers include veteran members, police officers, and fire fighters.
There is a one-time $75 fee to cover uniforms and accessories.
Rules of conduct are meant to be followed. There is no ad libbing.
Nashen emphasizes “They aren’t vigilantes. The rules and guidelines are strict. Members have two-way radios which connect them to a dispatcher who can contact police and ambulance and other services.”
For learn more about the program, to join or to donate, contact firstname.lastname@example.org call 514-485-6800.