INNISFAIL – An Innisfail Mountie who made a huge difference to the Penhold community fresh out of rookie police training has now received a huge salute.
On Nov. 25 in Penhold, representatives from the new Penhold Citizens on Patrol presented Innisfail Const. Chris Bessem the Alberta Law Enforcement Service Award on behalf of the Alberta Citizens on Patrols Association (ACOPA), Innisfail RCMP and their group.
“He's been a really key contributor since day one; helping us organize, setting it up with the RCMP because initially we needed to organize and get it up and running,” said Teresa Cunningham, president and chair of the Penhold Citizens On Patrol Association (PCOP). “He walked us through what training our members is going to look like.”
“Hopefully by us doing what we're doing we can give our residents a little bit of peace of mind as there's more eyes out in the evening.”
Bessem has been a well-known figure in Penhold for the past two years after being posted to the Innisfail RCMP straight out of RCMP Depot Division in Regina.
The 32-year-old Mountie is an Alberta boy, having been raised in Calgary.
Early in his first posting while in the process of passing his recruit training he was assigned to Penhold to conduct research, get to know the community and its citizens and come up with ideas for projects.
When he completed his recruit training a group of citizens made an application in mid-2021 to create a local Citizens on Patrol chapter and requested a RCMP liaison.
“At the time, the detachment commander that was there said, ‘as you just finished doing all these projects and community events in Penhold, you're probably the best suited to run that side of things as well',” said Bessem. “It was a better way to stay involved and keep on top of things, and then I could better inform the other members of what's going on.”
He said growing up in Calgary gave him an advantage as well.
“I did lots of volunteering and working with community groups. So, I was looking for something to dig my teeth into here. This was a good opportunity to get involved with the community,” said Bessem. “I'm doing it as a member but it's not part of the regular duties of a member. It's like an extra volunteer kind of workload.”
The first step was organizing and running the group’s first training seminar, including guiding the new untrained PCOP members through all the processes of forming their official citizens group.
Since then, he has been the group’s official liaison with the RCMP; communicating to members certain crimes and trends that could occur in their community.
“If there's hotspots or stuff like that, we can let them know to keep an eye out for that kind of thing,” said Bessem. “Or if there's a vehicle that's recently stolen, and might be heading around in our area, we can give them a description of that and have them be on the lookout for it.”
The PCOP has now been running successfully in Penhold for more than 16 months and even after all the initial training Bessem still makes himself available for ongoing support.
“Since they've been operating, I’ve had a vested interest in making sure they were utilized and successful. I've helped make sure they can help out as much as possible, and I make sure the other members know they exist,” said Bessem.
“I try and put the effort in to do as much as I can from the liaison perspective to make sure that that happens.”
And he and Cunningham both believe a positive impact has been made for the Town of Penhold.
“With extra eyes and ears, they can see stuff that then gets reported to us,” said Bessem. “Even if they don't see anything, criminals will see that they're patrolling around and its the same effective security as us patrolling around.
“You know someone's watching, and they're less likely to do stuff.”