Bridging the divide: Fort Smith RCMP bringing new Citizens on Patrol group to town

Sgt. Jesse Gilbert, with the Fort Smith RCMP detachment, has been working on getting the program up and running in the community for more than one year.

Sgt. Jesse Gilbert has been working on bringing the group to the N.W.T. for about a year

The RCMP detachment in Fort Smith is bringing a Citizens on Patrol program into the community. After it is established, the RCMP will take a step back and provide support and training to the volunteers. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Fort Smith's RCMP is bringing a Citizens on Patrol to the community.

It will be the first such group in the territory, and RCMP detachment Sgt. Jesse Gilbert is hoping it will expand to other communities.

Gilbert said when he first went to Fort Smith in November 2017 he met with local leadership to figure out what their priorities were. He said increased visibility, which is a very common request across the North, was one of them.

Citing safety reasons, the N.W.T. RCMP typically doesn't disclose how many members are in each detachment.

"Asking for more [RCMP] members or trying to get additional positions can be an uphill battle," said Gilbert. "So I was trying to think of something we could do in the interim that would satisfy a community's detachment needs."

Sgt. Jesse Gilbert says he wanted to find a way to have more RCMP visibility in the community without needing to bring in more officers. (Danna Wiedrick)

Gilbert presented the idea of a Citizens on Patrol group to council last December. 

Volunteers take shifts driving around the city, acting as eyes and ears for the RCMP. If they see something like vandalism, they alert the RCMP at the end of their shift. If they see something that requires immediate attention, they call the RCMP.

It's a branded program that is set up across Canada, which Gilbert said is an asset.

"You're kind of drawing from experience across the country," he said, adding that there's already a wealth of information.

Gilbert is hoping the program will help strengthen the relationship between residents and the RCMP. The RCMP has also been working with the community government and the Métis Nation.

Right now the RCMP is playing a major role in setting up the program, but once it's established, it will take a step back. Members will continue to perform background checks, train volunteers and liaise with the group, but they won't have a leadership role in the organization.

They are still looking for volunteers. Residents can get application packages at the RCMP office, the Métis Nation office, and the town office.

Gilbert is hoping to get the Citizens on Patrol group up and running in the new year.

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