It’s Monday evening, the first day of a new work week is gone for most. Some get ready for a family dinner, others prepare to munch on a pizza in front of their TVs or laptops, but we are heading to the Hastings Sunrise Community Policing Centre. We meet there at 6:30 for a two-hour patrol of our neighbourhood.
Today we are lucky, it is not raining. The air is fresh and clear. It smells like tree buds and new grass rushing to grow faster after winter, it feels like spring. The sun is going to set soon leaving a scarlet line above downtown. And this beautiful weather is getting recorded into our log books in one short sentence: no precipitation, visibility – high.
We put on our volunteer vests, take handout material and go. There are five of us today and we’ll be covering zone 6 that is several blocks between Nanaimo and Slocan. To make patrolling both more effective and efficient, the policing centre divided the entire Hastings Sunrise area into 16 zones and every day a group of volunteers is deployed to one of them.
It is the group leader who picks the zone based on Vancouver Police crime maps and community concerns or complaints about their neighbourhoods. Zone 6 is a residential area typical for Hastings Sunrise: small cozy houses with tidy lawns in front of them. It looks quiet and peaceful, but the police are recording a growing number of break-and-enter incidents and thefts there, so we are out to patrol the streets.
Our group leader, Tyler, is cheerful and energetic as usual, and we’ll have to speed up to catch up with him. We walk fast not only to turn patrolling into a healthy workout but also to cover as many streets as possible in two hours.
Friendly chatting occurs. Christian speaks on the progress of his application to the armed forces. He is one of the many volunteers hoping to have a career in law enforcement agencies or the military, and citizens patrol is a first step in it. “You get to know your city better, meet new people and do good for the community — how can you go wrong with that?” says Christian.
I can’t help agreeing with him, but have no time to reply: the other volunteer, Jun, spotted a vehicle with expired licence plates and we stop to deal with it. Plate number, car make and model, location of the vehicle, all of these get recorded in our log books. We leave a licence expiry notice on the windshield, which reminds the owners to renew their insurance to avoid paying hefty fines.
Driving without insurance may cost you $598 and even forgetting to display a new licence may result in losing $81. No wonder that on discovering those notices many car owners get back to the community policing centre thanking us for the friendly reminders.
Checking vehicles parked in Hastings Sunrise is one of the biggest parts of citizens patrols. Seventy two volunteers examined over 68,000 autos and found 346 abandoned cars in 2016.
As our patrol goes on, we stop at each house to leave magnets and leaflets with useful contact numbers people might need to call in cases of emergency. That is Operation Profile, launched this year by Hastings Sunrise Neighbourhood Police Officer Constable Graham Edmunds, to inform all local residents about the community policing centre and ways to make their neighbourhoods safer.
An older couple living in one of the houses on our patrol route see us and we have a chance to introduce ourselves and explain the work we are doing. “Have you arrested any bad guys yet?” the man jokes. “No, we haven’t.” In fact, the police do not want us to do their job: they need us as their eyes and ears in the streets of Vancouver to report suspicious activities and help them prevent crime.
Time goes by quickly and stacks of our handout material grow thinner fast. At 8:30 we return to the office. We record our two-hour shift, a tiny contribution to over 2,000 hours volunteers spend patrolling the streets of Hastings Sunrise area every year.
We find and report illegal dumping to the City of Vancouver so old furniture left in the streets by their irresponsible owners can be removed. We listen to complaints and concerns of community members so Vancouver Police know how to allocate their resources and where to deploy additional patrol teams. And last but not least, we serve as a crime deterrent. On seeing groups of people dressed in bright volunteer jackets, criminals are less likely to break into your house or steal your car.
■ Story and Photos by Olga Shaporenko