Volunteers are ‘eyes and ears’ for Kingston Police, Services Board hears

The Kingston Police Community Volunteers have their own specially marked vehicles. Photo via Kingston Police.

If members of the Kingston Police Services Board weren’t already aware of what Kingston Police Community Volunteers (KPCV) do, they certainly are now after Chris Phelan, KPCV coordinator, made a presentation at the board’s monthly meeting on Thursday, Mar. 21, 2024. As the board learned, Kingston Police Community Volunteers do much more than just direct traffic around the Santa Claus Parade.

Phelan joked that he had been given a time limit of 10 minutes for his presentation, “but I am so much in love with this group that I can talk for hours.”

Originally sponsored by Kingston Police and the Kiwanis Club of Kingston, the KPCV was formed on May 24, 1996, with approximately 15 volunteers, Phelan said.

“Our mandate was to go out and augment the Kingston Police by acting as eyes and ears,” he explained.

He pointed to a photo of the group wearing bright yellow jackets and explained this colour was chosen so people could see them and be aware of their presence.

“That was the chief’s idea — so we would look like a sore thumb out on the street,” Phelan said with a laugh.

Twenty-eight years later, the KPCV consists of approximately 65 volunteers, having just taken on 25 in the last two months, according to Phelan.

A historic photo from 2006 in Phelan’s presentation highlights the bright yellow uniform that marks the KPCV. Photo via presentation to the KPSB.

The purpose of the Kingston Police Community Volunteers is to assist the Kingston Police in a variety of “non-confrontational” roles that will enhance policing service to the Kingston community. The KPCV also strives to ensure that these tasks are challenging, offering a satisfying experience its members.

Becoming a volunteer involves taking a one-day intensive basic training course, Phelan said. New recruits are trained on radios, paperwork, and what to look for when out on patrol. For the first three months, volunteers are on probation and must patrol with an experienced volunteer who will supplement their training.

Extra training days are set up to ensure all new volunteers are trained in further tasks, such as radar surveys. Phelan explained that these help the police find high-speeder zones, noting that the KPCV members “are non-confrontational, so we just sit there in a dark corner somewhere and run radar for [the police], and send back a report” on the number of speeders per hour.

Volunteers are also important because they conduct child identification clinics. They go to special events or schools, take children’s fingerprints, and create identification kits for parents to give to police in case a child goes missing.

“We’ve been doing that probably the last 15 years,” Phelan said.

Outside agencies, like the Kingston Fire & Rescue, also provide training.

“We just did a really good fire extinguisher training course,” Phelan said. “The St. John Ambulance did a big first aid course with us at the end of last year. We have guest speakers coming to our meetings, such as the canine (K9) unit and the traffic unit, to talk to us about how we can help them with their activities.”

KPCV bike patrol taking part in Pride festivities. Photo via Chris Phelan’s presentation to the KPSB on Thursday, Mar. 21, 2024.

But the services KPVC members cover don’t end there.

“We do neighbourhood patrols, either on foot, in a vehicle, or on bikes. We have eight bicycles,” Phelan continued.

“We assist with crowd control at special events — eyes and ears, and public relations,” he said, pointing out that they also do a number of information booths throughout the year providing information about themselves and Kingston Police.

Another key role of volunteers, according to Phelan, is “emergency fan outs,” where they are called “to assist with such tasks as missing person searches, fire scenes that need roads locked down, and evidence searches.”

“Quite often, [the police] have a big area to cover [searching for evidence],” Phelan explained.

“One [incident] that comes to mind is a stabbing at Stages a few years back. They were looking for a knife in the downtown core, and of course it could be anywhere. In about half an hour of our volunteers being there, we found the knife two blocks away in a little alleyway. So we were able to help [police] get the evidence they need.”

The KPCV also assist police with requested tasks such as enhanced patrols in areas with a higher frequency of break-ins and vandalism “that require more eyes and ears,” Phelan said.

Picking up and delivering property such as stolen and found bicycles is an occasional task for volunteers to save officers’ time. They even occasionally pick up meals for prisoners in the cells at Police Headquarters.

Phelan also said that for the last 25 years, the KPCV has had a Halloween night event called “The Pumpkin Patrol”; volunteers patrol streets where there are a large number of children out, “to keep them safe.”

Another very important task is car seat clinics, he continued, noting, “We’re going to be training some more on that. We have licensed volunteers who go and help out at clinics installing child car seats for people. Apparently 95 per cent of the ones that they check are not correct.”

They also deliver frozen meals once a month to shut-ins, something “volunteers love because the people are so happy to see them,” said Phelan.

Officer Blue (right) and a “handler” are a fan favourite. Image courtesy of Kingston Police Facebook.

He also mentioned the help KPCV provides police when there are mass gatherings in the University District during Homecoming weekends, St. Patrick’s Day, and September move-in.

Phelan also spoke proudly of a new event last year: the Kingston Police Community Fun Fair, where about 5,000 people came out to enjoy a free event with the police and about 35 volunteers. Officer Blue, the Kingston Police mascot, attended that event, as he does many others. Phelan noted that Officer Blue “is also a volunteer,” one who loves to interact with fans, no matter how hot the weather.

“Over the past 28 years, we have had almost 500 citizens join us [as volunteers]. Many of them have gone on to be law enforcement officers, corrections officers, and things like that,” Phelan said.

He noted that not only are they police volunteers, but they are good will ambassadors for Kingston.  

Police Chief Scott Fraser thanked Phelan for his presentation, saying, “You all do a tremendous job of volunteering and organizing… Please pass on our best [to your team]. It’s a tremendous asset.”

Fraser also noted that “imitation is, as they say, the highest form of flattery,” indicating that he receives calls all the time from other police services “asking us for advice on how to set up a program like this one in their own communities.”  

The Kingston Police Services Board holds its regular meeting on the third Thursday of each month, beginning at 12 noon in the William Hackett Boardroom at Kingston Police Headquarters, 705 Division Street.

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