When Fort Smith launches a Citizens on Patrol (COP) program, it will be the first official program of its kind in all three territories.

Fort Smith RCMP detachment commander Jesse Gilbert told Cabin Radio the program is recruiting volunteers to act as the eyes and ears of the community, to both deter and report potential crime.

Gilbert has been working with representatives from the Town and the Fort Smith Métis Council to organize the program, which they aim to have in place before Aurora College classes resume this fall.

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“We actually have a dip in calls during the summer because a lot of the students leave, and then our calls start to uptick when we get to fall and all of the students come back,” he said, noting one of the main issues affecting local residents is property crime.

A report from this spring identified the NWT had the highest rate of property crime in the country in 2017, although that rate had declined significantly compared to previous data.

“Given the size of the detachment we can only be in so many places at one time,” said Gilbert, citing similar issues in prairie provinces – where expansive geography led to COP becoming a popular crime prevention and monitoring tool.

“I like to quote Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the first modern police force in London way back in the 1800s. He always said that the community is the police and the police are the community,” he continued.

“The police can only do so much on their own, and we really need community involvement and assistance in making every community safer.”

Volunteers use a COP app on their phone to log their mileage and hours, and to document things like vandalism by taking photos to send in. In the event of an emergency, they call the RCMP.

The hope, said Gilbert, is the program “makes a positive impact and could be used as a model for other communities in the NWT.”

Fort Smith COP will become an independent society after forming an executive at its first meeting, which will be advertised within the next few weeks.

At that point, the organizations spearheading the initiative will become partner agencies, leaving the executive to make decisions regarding how the program is run – such as if volunteers will operate on a set schedule, or if teens will be allowed to participate.

The program already has a handful of people signed up, who have filled out standard COP applications and completed criminal record checks. However, COP is still looking for more people to get the program off the ground.

Applications can be picked up at the RCMP detachment, the Town office, or the Métis Council.

Neither the Town of Fort Smith nor the Fort Smith Métis Council could be reached for comment.