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Citizens on Patrol leader John Carter says the organization needs money to keep patrols on the street. They will receive $5,000 from the city, but Carter says more money is needed.

Cash crunch handcuffs patrol

Terry Kruger
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 02/05) - If kind words and good wishes were cash, a volunteer patrol group would be rolling in money.

Instead, Citizens on Patrol (COPS) is running on a shoestring budget that's already seen the organization park one of two donated patrol vehicles.

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Coun. Doug Witty says council can't give COPS more money right now, but he'd like to see money for the group in next year's municipal enforcement division budget.

Spokesperson John Carter made an impassioned pitch for more money to city council, Monday. A committee recommended a $5,000 special grant for the Yellowknife Community Wellness Coalition, far short of the group's $15,000 request.

"Lots of volunteers are using their personal vehicles," said Carter. "We've been forced into that situation. We can't get a corporate sponsor."

COPS started more than a year ago to great fanfare. The program, part of the Wellness Coalition, got $10,000 from the city and contributions that ranged from a car donated by the territorial government to radios from the RCMP, meeting space, flashlights and first aid kits.

Now, however, Carter said they will be back to "knocking on doors" in search of new funding. "We're an orphan child."

He said he's written to mining companies and applied for crime prevention funding offered by the federal government, only to be denied because the program is "not clearly into health."

Councillors were sympathetic to Carter's request, but still voted 5-3 against a proposal from Coun. Bob Brooks to give the group an extra $5,000 from the city's contingency fund.

"I support the amendment in principle," said Coun. Doug Witty. "But you'll open a Pandora's Box if you start adding dollars (to the special grants fund) at this point."

Citizen safety the issue

The funding debate became heated at times as Coun. Alan Woytuik reminded councillors they were prepared to take $20,000 from the contingency fund for South Asian tsunami relief.

"This one speaks to the safety of our citizens," he said.

Coun. Blake Lyons reflected the majority sentiment by saying the time to discuss COPS funding was not during debate over awarding special grants.

"It is a good cause," said Lyons.

"But if you said you're going to give them more money because it's a good cause, you're saying the other groups are not a good cause."

Council didn't shut the door on more funding for COPS, however, with suggestions the group could come back in the fall for additional cash, and possibly even long-term funding.

"I really think that in next year's budget, we need to look at this under the municipal enforcement division," said Witty. "The city needs to champion the program."

Carter said he understands council's dilemma, and was pleased council "left the door open."

He said he hopes the business community will step up with cash, too. "We either perform a valuable service or we don't."

RCMP Const. Kerri Riehl called COPS an "invaluable resource" for police. "They've put in over 500 patrol hours during the past year and resulted in people being arrested."