Dave Jackson and his crews of volunteers have been visible since school went back in session after Labour Day.
Jackson is the president of Citizens on Patrol (COP), a group dedicated to monitoring and encouraging behaviour in our community to make it a safer place to live. When school’s back in session, they’re out there with the orange cones, radar guns, speed signs and clipboards you’ve been seeing all over town, reminding people to slow down and focus on what they’re doing.
The program is called “Speed Watch,” and it has the backing and support of the RCMP.
Sure, COP can’t pull people over and issue tickets, Jackson says, but they do “kind of give people a wake-up call and get them back into a head space they may have gotten out of over the summer and remind them to slow down, especially in certain areas where there are more kids around or extra pedestrian traffic, that sort of thing.”
They also have a direct line of communication with the RCMP, Jackson says, as yet another officer drives by and they exchange waves, so they can instantly call in anything especially egregious.
“If there are flagrant problems, we have direct line to them. We can give them the make, model – usually a license plate – and the vehicle’s speed and behaviour, and they’ll follow that up, you can be sure of that,” Jackson says. “They’re definitely floating around supporting what we’re doing.”
And the community, it seems, appreciates what they’re doing, as well.
“For the most part, we get waves and thumbs-ups from probably 99 per cent of the people we see. There are some of them, sure, who maybe see it as a bit of an inconvenience, but most people appreciate the reminder and see that we’re just trying to keep everyone safe,” Jackson says, waving at another passer-by.
COP compiles all the data they collect and creates a report for the RCMP and ICBC, and those organizations can use those statistics to create new programs, enhance existing programs, adjust signage or traffic control lights, or make whatever changes they feel will make the community safer.
And while the first two weeks after school gets back in session are focused on the “Speed Watch” program, next week they will be shifting gears and taking on distracted driving.
“Cell Watch,” as that program is called, is similar in its goals – to keep people focused on safety – but the approach is a bit different.
“It’s a totally different discipline,” says Norm McGill, director of both the “Speed Watch” and “Cell Watch” programs. While “Speed Watch” happens where traffic is moving fastest, “Cell Watch” happens at intersections, where people tend to take their eyes off the road and move them down to their laps, where they keep their phones.
“We’ll be looking for people who are driving distracted, documenting as much information as we can about them and what they’re doing, radioing ahead to the police who are just up the block, and they’ll watch for them doing it and jump out and pull them over.”
McGill says the additional eyes out there – and in court, should it come to that – alerting the RCMP to distracted drivers helps get a significant hazard off the road.
“Nobody has the right to endanger another person like that,” McGill says, clearly passionate about this particular issue. “Not ever. You don’t have that right, and we need to make sure we do our part to make sure that’s not a thing that happens in our community.”
So why do they put all this time in? Jackson says they have over 60 volunteers and put in hundreds of hours each over the course of a year when all their programs are taken into account.
“Most of the people in the program are…let’s call them ‘mid-life,’” Jackson says with a smile, “and they’ve had very interesting and diverse careers right here in this community, so this is our way of giving back to that community that gave so much to all of us, and we just want that community to be as safe as it can be.”