by Andrew Fleming
One of the Surrey RCMP’s longest-serving volunteers has chosen to go off the radar.
Bill Brand, 89, spent nearly a quarter of a century as a member of Speed Watch, a group of unpaid road-safety enthusiasts who use radar guns and digital sign boards to monitor motorists’ speeds in school and playground zones.
The grandfather of three said he is reluctantly hanging up his reflective safety vest due to changes in the management of the organization.
“They changed things around and I just don’t agree with it so I’m giving it up,” Brand told the Leader. “I would have preferred to stay on for another year or two.”
The City of Surrey has a total of five RCMP detachments: Whalley/City Centre (District 1), Guildford/Fleetwood (District 2), Newton (District 3), Cloverdale (District 4) and South Surrey (District 5).
Brand said changes to the Speed Watch program could require him to potentially operate or undertake training elsewhere in the city rather than simply near his home in District 1.
“I hate to give it up, but I had to,” said Brand, who was named Police Volunteer of the Year in 2008 for his years of service.
“I’ve worked for 23 years to get it where it is and now they’ve just thrown it all out. Don’t get me wrong, I have all the respect for the RCMP and I have a lot of friends (there) but it’s somebody (there) that doesn’t know how to handle community volunteers and that is the big problem.”
Brand first began encouraging drivers to slow down after a heart attack and triple-bypass surgery put a stop to his career as a heavy-duty mechanic back in his sixties. He decided to volunteer his new free time to help ensure public safety, particularly in areas where there are children.
“I had a schedule and I tried to make it to all the District 1 schools at least once every two weeks and I went out every day,” he said. “I had a good relation with the crossing guards, the teachers, the principals. They all wanted me to come. They would phone me at home and ask when I was coming back.”
Insp. Andy LeClair, who was hired in May as the police force’s new Community Support and Safety Officer, said the changes are a result of efforts to standardize RCMP volunteer programs across the city.
“There has been a bit of realignment of the volunteer program,” said LeClair.
“For the most part, it used to be run independently with the districts. Now what we are trying to do is keep it so there is consistency across all five districts. So that has meant some changes and of course not everybody is happy with change. But if there was something that required a volunteer in District 1, you will still be able to volunteer for that, it would just be managed out of our main detachment.”
Speed Watch is an ICBC-sponsored program that aims to reduce incidents of speeding and make streets safer. Research has shown that more than 70 percent of drivers who are travelling 10km/h beyond the speed limit slow down when they see a speed reader board.
Volunteers are also accompanied by RCMP officers who issue warnings or tickets to drivers, and the recorded speed data is then used to help police determine spots where speeding is a significant problem.
There are currently 110 volunteers working with the RCMP and another 41 undergoing training this fall.
LeClair added that every effort is being made to accommodate the needs of potential or existing volunteers.
“We are not going to tell people ‘you need to go here’ or ‘you need to go there,’ especially those who are currently in the program,” said LeClair.
“We understand that there are limitations with respect to their ability to move around and so obviously we are going to accommodate those individuals.”
“I don’t want to understate the appreciation we have for Mr. Brand,” LeClair added. “That kind of dedication deserves to be recognized and we are certainly appreciative. That is a message we certainly don’t want to have lost in this. He has been a tremendously valuable volunteer to us.”