Interest in Brandon Bear Clan 'a cry out for help,' says patrol group president

When Roberta Mackinnon started hearing stories of women and girls being accosted and sexually harassed in downtown Brandon last year, she felt she had to step up and do something.

20 members will start patrolling downtown June 2

Members of the Brandon chapter of the Bear Clan Patrol group will start patrolling city streets on foot on June 2. (Brandon Bear Clan/Facebook)

When Roberta MacKinnon started hearing stories of women and girls being accosted and sexually harassed in downtown Brandon, Man. last year, she felt she had to step up and do something.

"The women are scared to walk down here alone because of things like that that happen," MacKinnon, the president of the newly founded Brandon chapter of the Bear Clan, said. "You hear about it ... people are scared to come out and say anything."

"The community came together and said yes that's what we want," she said during an interview at Princess Park in Brandon's downtown. 

MacKinnon said she has experienced the harassment firsthand. It was just last week when she said a man in a vehicle stopped her while she was walking and asked if she was somebody else, then if she wanted a ride in his vehicle. 

"Just for people to do that is ... you don't do that to other people," MacKinnon said. 

Incidents like that, she said, have been fuelling the need for action. In 2016, a string of four sexual assaults were reported in downtown Brandon. And last fall, four shootings occurred in the span of a month in the city of about 50,000.

Now, after months of planning and training, the 20-member patrol group is now under two weeks away from starting patrols. 

Patrols to start

Starting June 2, members of Brandon's first Bear Clan patrol group will set foot on Brandon's streets, focusing on the city's core area at first. 

In Winnipeg, the grassroots group's volunteers walk the streets after dark, providing a presence that promotes safety, conflict resolution and crime prevention while looking out for the city's missing and most vulnerable. 

Brandon's group will do the same, MacKinnon said, adding that the group will also carry care packages with basic necessities for vulnerable people. She said they won't call the police unless it's deemed necessary. 

They've already been invited to patrol two other neighbourhoods outside of the downtown, she said. The group will only consider patrolling a particular neighbourhood if invited by residents. 

At first, MacKinnon wasn't sure how the community would react. She had thought there might be some resistance from the community, but the reception so far has been the exact opposite. 

"It feels amazing," MacKinnon said of the community support so far. "I think that it is very important that the community members do step up and say yes, this is what we want." 

Brandon police on board 

She said Brandon police are also on board and have assigned a police liaison officer to work with them. Officers with Brandon police do conduct foot patrols in the downtown area during the summer. 

"What we've been asked is 'when are you going to start, when are you going to start,'" MacKinnon said. "That's been the main question right from our very first community meeting." 

MacKinnon said members of Brandon's chapter have spent time in Winnipeg training. They're also hoping to learn CPR, First Aid and how to administer Narcan to reverse opioid overdoses.  

However, what the group could use is a few more men willing to walk, she said, adding that while many women have stepped up to volunteer, they would like at least one man in each patrol group that's sent out. 

MacKinnon hopes to see the group grow and welcomed in all corners of Brandon.

"For the community to step up and say yes, this is what we need, it was a cry out for help," she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering can visit the Brandon Bear Clan Facebook page or the Brandon Friendship Centre's Little Teaching Lodge at 204-729-0788 for more information.