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Airport Watch

Ottawa Airport Watch


Introducing the Airport Watch community policing/crime prevention

program to IPA Region 6 members


This document is meant to introduce members of IPA Region 6 to the Ottawa Airport Watch (OAW) program’s purpose, activities, and value-added to crime prevention and community policing in the Ottawa and eastern Ontario region. Airport Watch (AW), as an aviation safety initiative, is currently active at 14 medium and major airports throughout Canada and the US, and has inspired likeminded programs in the UK and Australia.


Ottawa Airport Watch functions alongside the International Airport Watch Association (IAWA)—a network of volunteer subject matter experts, former and retired law enforcement and military, and those with extensive experience in the program, who facilitate the formation of new AW groups, further collaboration among existing groups, and provides best practices and lessons learned to pertinent aviation safety and crime prevention partners. IAWA and the independent AW groups work closely with civil aviation management, law enforcement at the municipal, provincial/state, and federal level, as well as key corporate stakeholders in the aviation industry in North America and abroad. Currently, we are expanding our partnership with the RCMP, particularly as it relates to proactive community policing in and around airports of all sizes. As OAW celebrates its 20th year in 2019, the group is looking to increase its volunteer membership and IPA Region 6 has most graciously offered to disseminate this document to their members in order to advertise the program and provide contact information for those interested to join as volunteers across eastern Ontario.

The Airport Watch program in brief—its objectives and activities

In short, Airport Watch is a crime prevention program that utilizes local community members (oftentimes, but not always, aviation enthusiasts or “spotters”) as a complementary layer of security and safety awareness in and around the public access areas of airports. The concept functions like a sort of aviation-centric neighbourhood watch, in collaboration with civil aviation management and the law enforcement of jurisdiction. While AW members take part in a number of unique opportunities, there is no financial nor does it confer special privileges of access (unless pre-approved in the form of tours or other activities).

Airport Watch formed in Ottawa in 1999, as a direct result of innovative efforts by officers in the RCMP and Ottawa Police. The program was designed to include the many frequent visitors to the airport perimeter who enjoy spotting activities, and utilize them as a complementary layer of safety and security—in no way is the group there to supplant existing methods, persons, or procedures. The concept soon expanded across North America, based on the “Ottawa Model” archetype, earning laudatory praise from law enforcement on both sides of the border (including being an official best practice of the RCMP since June 2001). It now maintains active programs from Vancouver to Halifax and Iqaluit to Fort Lauderdale/Miami. In order to mark its 20th year of operations in 2019, OAW has designed an exciting array of aviation-related activities—behind the scenes tours of public and private sector airport tenants, social events with our many partners, and activities at major airshows, like supporting the Safety Teams at Spectacle Aérien de Saint-Hubert (Montreal) in June and Aéro Gatineau in September. On 9 February, OAW members took part in the first such event—an exclusive insider-look at the critical care transport agency “Ornge,” with its hangar facility situated on Alert Road at the Ottawa Airport, which consisted of in-depth tours of its advanced AW139 helicopters and extensive paramedic capabilities.

Volunteers come from a wide array of professional and personal backgrounds—aviation enthusiasts, active and retired pilots, amateur and professional photographers, active and retired military or law enforcement, former Air Cadets, employees who work in proximity to airport operations, or simply those who wish to contribute to a highly valued crime prevention initiative. Volunteers are vetted by law enforcement, are provided with awareness training, and are equipped with specialized clothing and signage that the member uses on presence patrols. While this varies among the AW groups, such insignia may include door flags (similar to sports team flags), jackets, ball caps, and high-visibility AW vests. There is no schedule or mandated hours—members are encouraged to conduct presence patrols in and around the airport simply by walking or driving at their leisure in public access areas, most often while enjoying aviation spotting activities or taking part in the social/communal aspects thereof. Typically, AW volunteers are afforded the opportunity to meet other community members of similar interest, as well as airport employees and members of the local law enforcement agency, both of whom routinely express their gratitude when they see AW members in and around the airport. In 2018, OAW members provided well over 1000 hours just at the Ottawa Airport perimeter.

In terms of what AW does in practicality, volunteers “Observe, Record, Report” potential suspicious activity or unsafe issues in and around airports of all sizes. This may include sightings of individuals using hand-held lasers or UAVs in an illegal manner, dumping personal refuse and trash in proximity of the airport, persons acting suspiciously in and around the perimeter, noted suspect aircraft, as well as more mundane, but no less critical, instances of foreign object debris (FOD) inside the perimeter, the presence of large wildlife (both terrestrial and airborne), or damage or theft to infrastructure (gates, fencing, lights, signage, etc.). Should something be spotted, members call into the airport’s Security Operations Centre (SOC) if at Ottawa airport or the RCMP, who would take appropriate action. A crucial aspect of the program is that members never put themselves or others in danger. They are instructed to never confront a potential threat or vulnerability directly, but rather to walk away and call the issue into the appropriate authority. In many cases, the mere presence of AW members can serve as a “soft deterrent” in preventing dangerous or criminal activity.

Airport Watch as a program built around and with airport partners, can work in airports and aerodromes of any and all sizes. One such reflection of the group’s unique role in crime prevention is our new cooperative effort with the RCMP’s national Coastal/Airport Watch awareness program, under the direction of “O” Division’s Serious and Organized Crime Section. Within this framework, AW members are provided with awareness training and safety information to recognize aircraft possibly being employed illicitly. The RCMP also provide Coastal/Airport Watch documentation to volunteers and are encouraged to circulate this awareness information to the operators of smaller airfields in their respective areas, throughout eastern Ontario. Most such aerodromes are uncontrolled and in close proximity to the US border along the St. Lawrence River valley. The primary objective of this initiative is to assist smaller airport facilities in knowing what to keep an eye out for in terms of persons and aircraft that may be employed in trans-border drug trafficking, or other unlawful activity, and knowing who to report this to. This pilot program has been developed in coordination with the RCMP over the past year, with the hopes of making that cooperation fully rendered throughout all the Canadian AW groups. This initiative also makes it easier for AW members who live outside of the National Capital Region, to participate in nonetheless highly important and appreciated spotter/crime prevention activities, particularly if travel to Ottawa is too far to do on a regular basis.

Why join Airport Watch?

Joining AW carries with it many interesting and pertinent ancillary benefits. The group maintains excellent horizontal relations with airport partners including fixed base operators (FBOs) at Ottawa International, including the RCMP, Ottawa Police, NavCanada, Transport Canada, Canadian Coast Guard, RCAF 412 (Transport) Squadron (and soon, AETE), First Air, National Research Council, FedEx, and other private and public sector entities. The group puts together an exciting list of social and aviation safety-minded activities throughout the year—behind-the-scenes tours of airport operations, insider looks into many of the above-mentioned facilities, pertinent awareness training and conferences, as well as social events, such as summer BBQs, monthly breakfasts, and other, more casual opportunities for friendly interaction and meet-and-greets. Many of these activities are undertaken in conjunction with OAW’s partners, including the other AW groups such as Montreal, Mirabel, and Toronto, as well as the organizations with which many of OAW members also volunteer, such as the earlier mentioned airshows, Vintage Wings of Canada, the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum, fundraisers such as the “Plane-Pull,” and others.

In terms of IPA members in particular, Airport Watch presents the above-mentioned benefits of activities, networking, and civic engagement, alongside the added value of participating in a tried-and-tested community policing and crime prevention program. Police officers with an interest in joining AW are afforded the opportunity to gain experience and knowledge of frontline community policing in and around aviation-related critical infrastructure. The utility of this approach to crime prevention is most evident in its use of reliable and vetted community members as sources—dedicated community members trained to “Observe, Record, Report” (as the AW motto states) potential instances of suspicious or unsafe issues in and around the airport area and its many facilities. The program’s longstanding partners in law enforcement in both Canada and the US have long recognized the unique value of AW in terms of facilitating dialogue and awareness among community members and police officers.  This presents officers at any stage of their career (or, indeed, those who are retired) the chance for additional experience in volunteer-based community policing, crime prevention, and aviation safety and security.

Concluding remarks

Ottawa Airport Watch is very excited to bring this program into the spotlight for the members of IPA Region 6. All of us involved agree wholeheartedly that this is an amazing opportunity for cooperative teamwork within your own communities and further afield, if that is what you may be seeking. We would like to enthusiastically welcome you to check out the group on its official website, its Facebook page, as well as to contact the undersigned, Sgt (ret.) Jacques Brunelle, RCMP, who has been a member of IPA Regions 2 and 6 for 31 years and founded the AW program in Ottawa in 1999 with Ottawa Police. It is our intention to present in greater detail the Airport Watch program, its activities, and its value-added to the aviation industry at an information session, to be announced in the near future. Please email to indicate your interest. We have taken the liberty of also including in this package an article recently published by one of our OAW volunteers in the UK-based Crisis Response Journal, which elaborates further on the Airport Watch crime prevention concept in both theory and practice.  The article may be found HERE.

We hope that you will join us as “Partners in Safer Communities and Airports.”

Jacques Brunelle

Director, IAWA

Rob Collinson

Chair, Ottawa Airport Watch

Liaison Eastern Ontario Costal/Airport Watch

For additional information, please visit the sites below

Ottawa Airport Watch Website

International Airport Watch Association Website

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