Last week, Lacombe had its first gathering of ‘Citizens on Patrol’, where a group of engaged citizens gathered to discuss ideas of how to make the City safer.
Approximately 30 people attended the first meeting. The group is still being developed but one of the guiding principles that will carry forward is that it is the duty of each citizen, along with the police, to be aware and proactive against criminality.
“I want ‘Citizens on Patrol’ or ‘Taking Back Lacombe’ or whatever we call it to be a made-in-Lacombe solution for Lacombe, and I want it to take on the form that the citizens think is best. I want it to have enough momentum and interest to not only be self-sustaining, but for it to grow and nourish itself,” said Lacombe Police Chief Steve Murray.
“If the only thing that keeps this going is me, coming to a meeting once a month, and talk to you for an hour, I’ve failed you. You’re inspired to come here tonight, so take that inspiration and share it with others, and encourage them to be good citizens. Ask them to become a part of the solution as much as every police officer.”
Murray became involved when a citizen of Lacombe, Ed L’Ecluse, came forward with the idea that citizens of Lacombe could come together to get a closer look at crime.
Neither the Lacombe Police Service nor the City of Lacombe is running the program – it is completely citizen-driven.
Murray’s presence at the meeting was for the purpose of sharing his philosophies of what the group might become, and how citizens can assist the police by being proactive, observant and reporting instances that seem out of place or suspicious.
“We do pro-active duty by making appearances in neighbourhoods that have higher statistical representation of crime in Lacombe. Simply by spending time in those areas, last year we saw a decrease of 33 per cent in criminal mischief. We didn’t arrest more people, or charge more people – we were just there. My point is that presence can have a dramatic effect on criminality,” Murray said.
He said the presence of people on trails, in parks and just being mindful in neighbourhoods is a great way for Citizens on Patrol to contribute to keeping Lacombe safe. He said as residents, people will have a better idea of what is normal or out of place in their neighbourhoods than members of the police might if they just drive through a street.
“It doesn’t have to be a police car – it’s just a presence of anybody. We would recommend that you don’t necessarily get involved when you witness a crime in progress because common sense tells us that things can go down,” he said.
“What we can do, is as residents, if we are awakened in the early morning and we look out our window and see people, what’s wrong with opening your door and saying, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ Let them know you’re there, awake and observing. Then call us.”
When the original conversation between L’Ecluse and Murray occurred, both parties agreed the intent of ‘Citizens on Patrol’ is to engage the community of Lacombe to be vigilant, aware and to work together to make the City safer.
“One of the things that Ed (L’Ecluse) and I talked about was this: in terms of Citizens on Patrol, if the message ‘All is well’ gets out to the public, it’s not the right message. We don’t want people to think that since there is this group working with the police, that all is well. My fear is that if people adopt that complacency, they will feel like they don’t have to do their part anymore,” Murray explained.
Mayor Steve Christie was in attendance at the meeting to pledge his support as a Mayor to the citizens as they make a dedicated effort to be aware of and help take care of the City.
“I don’t want people going out to ‘tackle crime’ and getting hurt or anything. It’s just about awareness, which is something that people don’t have.
“I know that for a fact – I used to be a private investigator for a few years. People are oblivious to their surroundings. It’s about being aware of our surroundings, and getting to know our neighbours,” Christie said.
Both Christie and Murray said each crime has a root cause, and that supporting social programs such as mental health initiatives, youth programs, addictions programs and social protective services are necessary to preventing crime.
Murray made it clear he wants citizens to remember the police are not necessarily always able to handle an issue alone. There are roles that social agencies, community members and individuals must all play to contribute to municipal safety.
He encouraged people to meet their neighbours, be watchful of their neighbourhoods and to engage in community safety.
“As a police chief, I pledge the support of the Lacombe Police Service to this group. That said, I want this to be a group of very engaged citizens that are taking an active role to care for Lacombe. At the end of the day, it’s going to be a commitment shared with others that is truly going to get us where we want to be.”