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The Columbia Journal
P.O. Box 2633 MPO,
Vancouver, British Columbia,
Canada V6B 3W8
Phone: 604-266-6552
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Columbia Journal logoVolume Nine, Number Two    April 2004    www.columbiajournal.ca

    CUPE, councils cooperate with City Watch

    Barry O’Neill

    Welcome to City Watch, a program to help keep our communities safe.
    It is a simple but effective idea: Train municipal workers (CUPE members) to watch out for and report crimes they witness during the course of their jobs. Of course, city workers are looking out for their neighbours all the time. But this program gives both them and city hall an added incentive – enhanced public safety. It makes such good sense for British Columbia communities.

    Our workers are in a unique position to help keep our communities safe. They are on the streets, in the alleys, in the parks and other public places during their daily work. They know their community perhaps better than most citizens. And they know when something suspi-cious is occurring. They are watchful of strange vehicles or people that perhaps shouldn’t be in the alleys or cul-de-sacs or parks or streets.
    It also makes good sense when employer and union do something positive together. Chilliwack is the most recent community to enthusiastically endorse the program.

    The CUPE local sees it as an excellent way to protect children, particularly in the parks. This will be done in conjunction with the Child Alert program. With rapid urban growth comes the need to keep watch over construction sites. City Watch can do that too.

    Municipal workers are often in places where few other people go – for example, clearing storm drains. These are places where the police are hard-pressed to patrol regularly. Our workers can add to the efforts of the police in watching those more remote areas.

    As an additional safety assist to police, our members work afternoon shifts. It is comfort-ing to know that their eyes will be out there after dark as well.

    How does City Watch work?

    Most city vehicles are equipped with a two-way radio system or cell phones. If suspicious activities or accidents are observed, city workers call central dispatch.

    The dispatcher then immediately contacts the police or other emergency services, depending on the circumstances. In some communities, the workers make the emergency call directly. Incident reports are maintained and reviewed.

    A City Watch binder in each city vehicle provides handy instructions, reminders and report forms. If police are on the lookout for anyone in particular, that information can be included.
    Cooperation with and assistance from local police is crucial to the success of City Watch. Training varies from town to town. However, in general police teach workers effec-tive methods of observation and reporting of unusual or suspicious behaviour.

    Has it been successful in our communities? Indeed it has.

    Victoria has worked co-operatively with the Insurance Corp. of B.C. (ICBC) to pro-vide daily hot sheets – lists of stolen vehicles – to go in city trucks. It has been a highly successful partnership, resulting in the recovery of dozens of stolen vehicles. Even if work-ers do not have hot sheets, simply having a good incident report sheet in the vehicles, as well as a bit of training as to how to fill them out, results in the recovery of many stolen vehicles.

    In Powell River, CUPE workers set up a special Halloween Patrol. In Prince George, employees guided emergency vehicles up the mountain to a woman who had broken her leg. In Richmond, city workers saved a drowning woman. Elsewhere, assaults have been prevented or stopped.

    Everyone benefits from City Watch and it costs the taxpayer next to nothing.

    Barry O’Neill is president of CUPE BC. This commentary is drawn from his speech to Chilliwack city council on Feb. 16, 2004, welcoming the city to the City Watch family.

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