Citizens on Patrol group reporting Langdon vandalism
A rash of vandalism in recent months has sparked the creation of the Langdon Citizens on Patrol (LCOP), a group of residents who patrol the community and report crime to the RCMP.
LCOP was formed by Amy Szarka and a group of four friends in February and has since grown to a total of 10 volunteers, who go out at night, particularly on weekends, and report suspicious activities, vandalism and other crimes to police.
According to LCOP member and mother of three Ashley Harper, an incident of vandalism on July 9 at Sarah Thompson School has resulted in additional interest from the community. Rocks were thrown through windows and derogatory and profane remarks aimed at LCOP were spray painted on the walls, windows and doors.
“The vandalism to the school has made a lot of people angry,” said Harper. “We have had a lot of interest from the community.”
The graffiti was covered up the next morning, but the school was vandalized again on July 25, when culprits threw rocks through the windows and spray painted obscene images on the doors. The same night, portables at the Langdon School were smashed with concrete blocks.
LCOP plans to hold a meeting on Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Field House in Langdon Park to discuss the problem, answer questions, give information and recruit volunteers.
“There has especially been a lot of vandalism in the park,” said Harper. “The Field House had just been painted and it got vandalized. There are broken bottles, needles, bongs, all sorts of drug paraphernalia, spray painting, just lots of bad things. I have a seven-, five- and three-year-old, and I won’t even let them go to the park because of the vandalism and finding that kind of stuff in the park. We should be able to feel safe and feel that our children are safe in our own community.”
Harper said crime in the community has nearly tripled in the past year, including vehicles being broken into, damaged and stolen. She said four vehicles have been stolen in the past month.
“It’s been a problem for quite a while but it’s getting really bad now,” she said. “I think it’s because we’re growing so fast.”
Harper said because Langdon is located within the Strathmore RCMP’s jurisdiction and has no police detachment of its own, it can be quite a while before officers are able to respond to calls.
“It takes at least 20 minutes for the RCMP to get out here so we’re kind of sitting ducks until then,” she said.
Strathmore RCMP Constable Keith Anderson, who serves as the detachment’s COP liaison for Strathmore, Langdon and Carseland, said he is glad to see residents taking an active role in increasing safety in their community.
“I do believe the program is good and it’s important for the community,” he said. “It’s always difficult in communities that don’t have any kind of local policing program. Langdon has become a good-size town, but it doesn’t have an actual detachment and is still policed under the Provincial mandate. That means they’re not as likely to have police officers in the community to respond to their calls and that makes it more difficult.
“Time becomes an additional factor for service in Langdon, so having involved citizens who are letting us know what’s happening is a very valuable asset,” he said. “For a community approaching 5,000 people, they are in need of additional law enforcement options and crime control within the community. COP is just a program by which regular citizens agree to be out and about rather than sitting at home, and when they’re out, they’re able to report to the police.”
Both Harper and Anderson said there are people in the community who are not pleased with the group’s creation.
“Some folks have raised concerns about not wanting an increased level of enforcement,” said Anderson.
“COP is not about that. They are just reporting the same offences anyone could and the RCMP still makes the decision on (whether charges need to be laid) or not.”
Harper said the remarks aimed at LCOP have made some residents resent the group.
“With what’s been written on the school, they think we’re making it worse,” she said. “That’s why we’re having a community meeting. Some people think we’re vigilantes, they don’t know that we just watch and phone the RCMP, we don’t take matters into our own hands. We are the eyes and ears for the RCMP. We go out on patrol and if we see anything suspicious or witness a crime in process, we contact them directly so they can send a unit out if they’re able to get out here. We are completely hands-off.”
According to Harper, a former LCOP volunteer was asked to leave the group after she got into an altercation with a group of youths vandalizing the park.
“That’s what stirred up the community,” she said. “That’s not what we’re about and that’s why she had to be let go.”
Anderson said the RCMP works to ensure members know their roles and responsibilities so problems such as this do not occur.
“The starting of a group like this does come with some growing pains as people learn what role they do and do not serve,” he said. “The big thing is to remind people that COP is not a law enforcement agency, there are no new laws in place, no new rules. It’s just a group of concerned citizens that have decided to be active and aware and report their concerns to the police so we can be more aware of what’s happening in the community as well.”
Harper said she hopes many residents will attend the meeting on Aug. 28 so they can discuss the issues and share information.
“We want to have a meeting so people can learn more about what we do and maybe volunteer to help out,” she said. “This is what’s happening in our community. We have to stop this. We’re out here to protect our youth and our community.”
For more information, visit www.langdoncop.com