Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay residents sign up to fight crime

About 40 Thunder Bay residents have started training to help stop crime in their neighbourhoods.

Thunder Bay police launch 'zone watch' training program for residents to help police

Thunder Bay residents take part in Zone Watch training conducted by Thunder Bay Police. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

About 40 Thunder Bay residents have started training to help stop crime in their neighbourhoods.

As police launched their new Zone Watch program, organizers hope involving citizens will give officers support on the streets — and build trust between police and the community.

"We're already a pretty strapped police service, so this kind of help is much needed and much appreciated," said Thunder Bay Police Chief JP Levesque during the first zone watch training session held Tuesday night.

After these citizens complete 12 hours of training over four weeks, they'll have access to a secure website through which they can share information with police officers working in their neighbourhoods.

Geraldine Jessiman, who lives in the Thunder Bay's McKellar ward, signed up for the Zone Watch program to help vulnerable women. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

Little trust in police

Geraldine Jessiman, who lives in the city's McKellar ward, said she signed up for the program to help vulnerable women.

"I was extremely despondent at night seeing girls of the street being thrown out of the vehicle, beaten, no shoes, their money stolen," she said.

Jessiman, who also works with the Faye Peterson Court Watch program, tracks domestic abuse cases.

Many of those crimes go unreported, she said.

"My idea is to help women to understand their value, that they have a right to bring these situations to the police —no matter what your circumstance."

Violence against vulnerable women is "only one issue in my community, but that to me was probably the most compelling reason to come [to the Zone Watch training]," Jessiman said.

But she noted people in her community have little trust in police — and said she believes having residents and police working together will help change that.

Zone Watch participant Cheryl Austin says she hopes her involvement with the crime-prevention program will help curb the amount of vandalism she sees. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

More than 80 people sign on

Levesque said police have "been trying to rebuild ... trust with our citizens ... [and] everybody who lives here.  And this is one way to do it. So we're trying to connect. And we're trying to get people involved in policing and making a safer community."

Zone Watch participant  Cheryl Austin said she is keen to help.

"Unfortunately we have a lot of vandalism within our area," she said.

"A lot of it is [done by] some of the youth … [who] may be going through some growing pains … but … that should be addressed. The only way to do that with the resources [Thunder Bay has] is [by] community involvement."

Thunder Bay Police say another 40 people will start training later this month.

Police spokesperson Chris Adams said more than 80 people have signed up for the Zone Watch program, with a fairly even split between men and women. The volunteers range in age from 19 to 85 years old.