Keeping community in community policing

Lauren Gilchrist
April 15, 2013
By Lauren Gilchrist
You would expect to find Peterborough Drug Strategy (PDS) coordinator Kerri Kightley's office in one of the charming old brick buildings that line the streets of the city's historic downtown. Or perhaps in the health unit, or maybe the hospital. Instead, she is located smack dab inside the Peterborough Lakefield Community Police Service (PLCPS) station. More specifically, right in the criminal investigations unit. Her office location has nothing to do with who is footing the bill – the strategy, comprised of numerous community partners, is funded through a variety of sources including grants.

You would expect to find Peterborough Drug Strategy (PDS) coordinator Kerri Kightley's office in one of the charming old brick buildings that line the streets of the city's historic downtown. Or perhaps in the health unit, or maybe the hospital.

Instead, she is located smack dab inside the Peterborough Lakefield Community Police Service (PLCPS) station. More specifically, right in the criminal investigations unit.

Her office location has nothing to do with who is footing the bill – the strategy, comprised of numerous community partners, is funded through a variety of sources including grants.

To put it simply, her office is located there because she was invited into the station.

"It's the only place in Ontario that it's happening," says Kightley.

"It's a fairly big deal to invite a community member in and put them in a detective office and say "go for it, what do you need?" she explains.

She notes that other Ontario police services are contributing to strategies and initiatives to tackle the growing issue of substance use but only PLCPS valued the project so highly that it opened its doors to her.

"People call me all the time and say "What are you doing? How did you get your police partners to engage?"

Her reply? "I didn't do anything," she explains. "They volunteered."

For Kightley, her office is much more than a place to work each day. Instead, it represents the service's commitment to working alongside community partners to identify, analyze and come up with solutions and strategies to common problems. It represents the breaking down of barriers and silos amongst agencies.

It gets at the heart of community based policing.

{'Pure' community policing}

PLCPS Chief Murray Rodd describes community policing as a concept of operation that brings to life Sir Robert Peel's principle that "The police are the public and the public are the police."

Then Insp. Gordon Dawson implemented the strategy in 1978. Faced with a 16.9 per cent increase in reported crime from the previous year, there was a need to re-direct the focus to better serving the community.

Borrowing from American and British experiments in community policing, one of the first successful Canadian community policing programs was designed. Based on the "generalist" concept, where an officer provides almost all police services to the public, the Peterborough "Preventive Policing Program" was targeted at the service acting in a preventive and proactive rather than reactive role.

"Organization-wide every member was considered a front-line crime prevention officer and problem solver. That concept has remained as a cornerstone of our generalist constable concept to this day," Rodd explains.

The launch was such a success that calls for service year over year were driven down for the next decade, a trend PLCPS is still experiencing more than three decades later.

"We have been able to contain calls for service. Despite the number of challenges we are facing around drugs and violence, we have very effectively addressed a number of categories of crime," Rodd explains.

Inspections and audits done in the '80s and '90s found the service was practicing the purest form of community based policing in Ontario.

"That was a badge of honour," Rodd says. "The service really took that to heart and we have attempted to hang onto that accolade and perpetuate it."

He says that the 2010 Ontario's Mobilization and Engagement Model of Community Policing is something PLCPS has been following for decades.

He notes the model provides a fresh approach to formalizing, in a very intuitive model, the degree to which police and the community need to engage with one another and defines whose turn it is to lead and whose to follow.

"I think even sometimes front line officers don't realize how connected they are to community based policing because here, it is part of people's mentality about how they do their job," adds S/Sgt. Lynne Buehler.

Team policing advisor Sgt. Todd Blewett describes community based policing as "police in partnership with the community involved in problem solving...

"Instead of just taking a call for service they have an opportunity to be involved in something bigger then just a call for service. They can be leaders tackling significant problems," he explains.

{All about partnerships}

PLCPS members belong to 101 organizations, providing community leadership on and off duty.

"We are at the tables where the conversations are happening around not just matters of crime but matters of social development, issues of drug culture, youth issues, issues of functioning families, education, opportunity and inclusion. We are there," says Rodd.

Blewett notes the partnerships with the PDS and the Canadian Mental Health Association's local Integrated Outreach Program are both excellent examples of community based policing. The partnerships allow the service to use the expertise of outside agencies to improve and better service the community.

Formed in 2008, the unique and award-wining PDS is based on the four pillars of prevention, harm reduction, treatment and enforcement. The strategy brings together community partners, including the PLCPS and the Four Counties Addiction Service Team (FourCAST), to work together to reduce duplication of services and to take a collaborative approach to tackling substance use.

"It's all about the partnerships," explains Kerri Kightley, drug strategy coordinator.

"Substance use affects the whole population. If we can get more partners to the table to talk about collaborative initiatives, then the more people are going to be affected by these positive public health initiatives."

The strategy was nominated for an OACP Policing Award the year after it was launched.

"I think the reason we were recognized is because it is a really unique partnership in the sense that police weren't just invited into this relationship, they really did initiate and pushed the importance of the collaborative relationship and partnership," she explains.

"Inspector Tim Farquharson and I have spoken across the province about this partnership and how advantageous it has been for our community."

Through the strategy, Kightley says there is less duplication of services and agencies are better connected.

"If you come into contact with police they are better connected with the appropriate services, whether it be treatment, prevention or family supports. We are starting to identify gaps and develop programs to fill those gaps," she explains.

For Kightley, there are huge benefits to having her office within the station and it just furthers the collaboration and partnership between police and their community partners in tackling substance use.

"The conversation is always about prevention around here (the police station). When you talk to the chief about main messages, he talks about a functioning family and engaging the community and inclusivity and education. He's not talking about kicking down doors and putting bad guys in jail. He's talking about "okay, how do we invest in community and in strength, resiliency, protective factors... That's a great model," she explains.

She says PLCPS is at the table advocating for overdose prevention initiatives and supporting the work the strategy is doing around preventing overdoses and youth drug use.

"They are really leading the way because they are saying "okay, we may not agree but let's have the conversation. That's unique."

The PLCPS has also partnered with the CMHA and Peterborough Regional Health Centre on the CMHA Integrated Outreach Program. Launched in 2011 and funded at no direct cost to the police or hospital, one goal is to reduce emergency department wait times by assessing mental health clients.

Officers call Graham Harvey when they suspect a person has mental health issues. He is qualified to do an assessment at the scene to determine if there is a psychiatric component and whether the person needs hospitalization. If that isn't appropriate he can see that they receive the appropriate resources in the community. Before the program, Harvey says police really only had two options – do their best to assess and resource a person with mental health issues at the scene or take them to hospital.

He notes a hospital trip often meant two officers spending hours in the emergency department until the person was assessed and admitted or discharged. Harvey says he can do the initial assessment along with follow-up and make the right connections outside of the hospital, freeing up officers, reducing emergency wait times and benefiting clients. On follow ups, he can monitor s person more closely and provide the right resources so they are not calling 9-1-1 when they reach a crisis point.

"The feedback seems to be positive and it has been well received from the different levels within the police force, everyone from the dispatchers right up to the chief," says Mr. Harvey.

While not unique to Peterborough, Blewett says this three-way partnership is another excellent example of community based policing. A need was identified, namely the rise in calls for mental health services, analyzed and a plan developed to tackle the issue. He says it's impossible to make every officer a mental health expert but the service can liaise with experts willing to help address a community based problem.

Buehler's community services unit gets at the very core of community based policing.

"Our work in the schools is not about being reactive, it's about being proactive. It's about giving people the tools before the problems emerge to prevent the problems from occurring at a later time," she explains.

The unit uses the four pillar approach of education, opportunity, inclusion and functioning family. She notes that many precursors for crime come of out of these areas. If people don't have a functioning family, are socially excluded or have a poor education, they are more at risk for substance use.

The unit hosts three proactive and highly successful events annually which identify a specific demographic and proactively talk to it about issues that will prevent crime.

"All three events – Family Week, Drug Awareness Week and Crime Prevention Week, have all brought attention from other police services about modeling our programs in their communities," says Buehler.

Officers play hockey against a team of area high school students during Drug Awareness Week. Drug awareness messaging, information booths and games are showcased in the lobby of the arena and on the screen throughout the event. Some 3,000 high school students attend, a cost effective way to deliver a message to thousands of people all at once.

"Our events are big. We thought big. We dreamed big," explains Buehler.

Another unique made-in-Peterborough program that highlights community based policing is Project TACTIC (Teens and Cops Tackling Internet Crime).

In 2012 PLCPS partnered with area school boards and a local college. Funding was provided through a grant that allowed 32 high school students to create videos about safe online behaviour that are now being shown to their peers in elementary school.

"We're trying to use some of the best practices around peer to peer messaging and involving people in developing the messaging," says Buehler.

"It was really innovative. It's being used across the province."

Buehler says there isn't a perfect recipe for their success.

"A lot of the things we're able to accomplish are based on those solid community relationships that we have – and those just grow over time based on the investment you make," she explains.

"If you don't make the investment you don't get the returns on the investment."

{Cyclical model}

Community based policing is not without its challenges.

While not a new concept amongst his officers, Rodd says it needs to be constantly nurtured and fed through ongoing education.

That's been the role of Blewett since 2011. He teaches officers about community policing and problem solving. The area PLCPS serves is divided into five different areas or zones. Each year officers must come up with a project that identifies a real problem in their area, then examining solutions to either mitigate or solve it. Blewett implemented the SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment) model last year to encourage this process.

Using the problem solving model, officers identify a community problem, then analyze it to decide whether police should fix it or if it's best dealt with by another organization or agency. The final step, assessment, asks officers to evaluate their results and determine if the plan was effective. If it was not, they go right back into the model because it is cyclical, not linear.

"Problem solving is a good management tool to involve all officers in. It's very cost effective and we rely on all our community partners to resolve the problem. Everybody has a stake in the problem."

Blewett says the key to the model is identifying a real community problem. Officers can't rely solely on stats, which only paint part of the picture. Instead, they need to get out and talk to people to really be able to identify and pinpoint a problem.

He says there are always improvements to be made and he is continually working on teaching the service how to use the model for greater effect.

"It's all about community and delivering better service," he notes. "If we can resolve the underlining issues to a problem we are not going to get a call back."

{Education key}

Rodd says community policing faces challenges, especially budget pressures. "(As) people are analyzing what is the role of a police officer, it would be very easy to say school programs, neighbourhood and quality of life issues and mental health issues aren't really the primary concern of the police," he explains.

"I think that many of our informed community partners understand our unique space and our ability to act as a catalyst for an action and to call meetings, bring attention to issues through the media, bring people together. We have that effect and that is our value often at times in the whole social development aspect."

He also notes that despite an enlightened workforce, officers sometimes do not understand why community based policing should be their job. "It's not the sexy part of policing," he says.

Buehler adds that one of the hard parts about community based policing is the lack of hard data.

"We can count the tickets. We can count the arrests. We can count the crimes. It's really hard to measure the prevention, what we've prevented," she notes.

She says there can be the perception that if a police service is short officers it should draw from community services. She notes that all five community services officers are able to take calls at anytime, but it would be a great loss if the unit was ever disbanded.

"Would we be the same quality service? Would we accomplish the same things without this unit? Not in my view. I think it would be a tremendous loss. I really see the value in spades," she explains.

"The chief understands, he's always been a big proponent of community policing. He has always been an innovative thinker around ways to engage the community and have people interact and to build those partnerships and send those ambassadors out."

She notes while PLCPS is doing its part to engage with the community it is a two-way relationship. "We can't be responsible entirely for societal safety. We can't do it all," she notes.

"We need every person in the community to play their own role on some level. We need the people and we need the relationships to do that."

Rodd points to a 2009 community satisfaction survey as evidence connections with the public are working. It showed a 98 per cent satisfaction rate in Lakefield with the service and a 97 per cent satisfaction rate in Peterborough.

"That is based on our formal and informal interactions," he explains.

"I think we truly demonstrate, individually and collectively, that a safe and healthy community leaves no person behind and values everybody's voice and contribution."

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