Although only a small Island, Cape Breton’s beauty, hospitality and culture has made it one of the top vacation destinations worldwide. In the centre of this tourism masterpiece is the Cape Breton Regional Police Service (CBRPS), with more than 200 officers serving and protecting the regional municipality’s more than 105,000 people and 2,400 square kilometres. Its record of success also deserves accolades.
Under the leadership of newly appointed chief Myles Burke, M.o.M., the CBRPS is one of Canada’s most progressive police services, priding itself on a community-based policing philosophy which it instills in all officers.
“It is an honour and privilege to be the chief of the CBRPS and work with the great team of officers and the community to reach our goals,” says Burke, who serves on the CACP National Drug Committee and is the Nova Scotia national board member.
The service is working to “balance enforcement and prevention in all that we do, serving with the community for the community,” he notes. “Our police service has seen great success and, with building momentum, we are looking forward with the goal of continuing to improve and reach new heights.”
Formed in 1995, the service is relatively small in comparison to other major cities but has faced its fair share of challenges. Police are one of the central pillars of the community on the island and the service has used that strong community support to successfully expand and enhance its services.
h2. Membertou First Nation
The CBRPS was chosen to police the Membertou First Nation, located within the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (CBRM), in 2007. The Membertou insisted on a collaborative, interactive policing approach, focusing on the needs of the community. The CBRPS responded and implemented this philosophy, which is vital to the success that has been achieved in just two short years.
A desire to learn the best way for officers to do their jobs is crucial, according to Sgt. Barry Gordon, who leads the Membertou division. Building trust with the community by learning about the Mi’kmaq culture and getting to know the people officers work with is also very important, he says.
“The people of Membertou demanded good service, quick response times and most of all a presence in the community,” says Gordon. “We are committed to doing a great job in Membertou. In fact, we have officers learning the Mi’kmaq language and culture from community elders and volunteering in the community to get to know as many people as we can....
“We have some of the fastest response times in the country because an officer is always on duty in the community. What this does is builds the trust that is so vital to our success. If the police are strangers, people won’t help.”
The CBRPS and Membertou are working on a healing video that focuses on Indian Residential Schools. It takes stories from students who were abused and shows children that, with healing and forgiveness, they can lead a healthy life. The community has seen an increase in youth programs, a sense of ownership among citizens and a dedication to continuing partnerships.
“The support we have received from the community has been fantastic,” notes Gordon. “Through partnerships we now have Neighbourhood Watch and Block Parent programs and a Police Boys and Girls Club, and we’re excited for what else is to come.”
Parents and youth gave the CBRPS top marks for its work at a recent community forum.
h2. Enforcement and intelligence
The CBRPS drug team has been very successful at combating drug trafficking over the past 15 months. It has seized more than $5.3 million (estimated street value) of drugs during this period, the most in the service’s history. Insp. Tom Hastie credits intelligence gathering techniques, technology which allows better communication between police units and supportive government policies as critical factors in this outcome.
Time invested developing informants and wireless access to CPIC via the Onpatrol Blackberry is also proving helpful. Officers conducting surveillance on drug investigations can use intelligence information gathering in real time.
Another benefit is additional funding to hire more police officers through the Nova Scotia Crime Prevention and Reduction Strategy. The Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods Act is also making a great impact. It gives police the authority needed to deal with drug issues by targeting and shutting down residential and commercial buildings and land regularly used for illegal activity, including drug production, sales or use.
Increased media attention to high profile drug seizures and arrests have increased calls to Crime Stoppers, adds Hastie. “Changing a culture, the public sees police success and they want to help. They see that the police are having an impact and are therefore empowered to do more.”
h2. Port security
The CBRPS established a Ports Security Intelligence Section in April which is responsible for community based policing and offering security, intelligence, policing initiatives and safety measures to all CBRM transportation infrastructure and marine ports, in conjunction with regular routine patrol. The primary role is gathering intelligence and networking with other police units and security agencies, including customs, immigration, port authorities, harbour masters and the RCMP.
“Illegal drug activity can originate from outside the CBRM so drugs are moved into the area using one mode of transportation or another,” says Hastie.
Major ports have improved their security since 9-11 to address terrorist concerns, making them unavailable to the drug trade. That has made smaller ports, such as those on Cape Breton, more appealing to traffickers.
h2. A community approach to safety
Leaders from more than 30 sectors and agencies met in 2007 to form the Association for Safer Cape Breton Communities, a coalition to address community safety and crime prevention. Their goal is to develop and implement a comprehensive community safety strategy for the region through effectively deploying human, financial and knowledge resources to realize the vision of a safe and crime-free community.
The association uses a multi-faceted approach, focusing on one community at a time. Bylaw officers have issued property clean up orders, drug houses have been shut down and a community office was opened to benefit organizations and youth in the first community – all indicators of accomplishment. The association is now moving on to a second area.
“Partnerships with the community are a key to the success,” says Sgt. Tom Ripley, executive director of the association.
h2. Partnering in education
Education and training are of the utmost importance to the future of the CBRPS. Recognizing the challenges facing police officers today, the service signed a formal memorandum of understanding with Cape Breton University (CBU). The goal is to provide opportunities for advanced academic standing and increase professionalism, ensuring officers are better equipped for the leadership challenges that lie ahead. More than 20 CBRPS members are already CBU alumni.
CBU also shares an agreement with the Atlantic Police Academy (APA), which allows officers to receive academic credit in the Bachelor of Arts Community Studies (BACS) degree program.
“The dynamic partnership between the Atlantic Police Academy and CBU continues to provide a very powerful learning experience for our current and past graduates,” says APA Executive Director Edgar MacLeod.
“The foundation of this partnership is our success at bridging academic knowledge with the skills based police training received while at the academy. As a result, this is an important combination for the communities served by our graduates.”
Burke took full advantage of this agreement, graduating from CBU in 2003 with a BACS degree. While it was challenging to juggle pursuing a university degree and the demands of police work, the experience helped his career.
“Without a doubt the courses have been extremely beneficial for me in my day-to-day operations and it is for this reason I have encouraged other police officers from around the country to look at CBU as the place to secure training.”
In addition to his CBU education, Burke is also a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the FBI LEEDS Program.
The agreement with CBU also focuses on officer applicants. Students interested in policing often volunteer with the CBRPS. A police preparatory course was developed to enhance the BACS degree by preparing students for entry into a police training program. Officers are instructors in this course, which covers a multitude of policing topics.
“The policing field requires many skills such as communication, critical thinking and problem solving, which are all components of the BACS program,” says CBRPS Cst. and BACS graduate Raymond Aikens. Burke concurs. “Being a CBU grad and working with the institution for the past number of years, I know that what is being learned in the classroom can translate directly to the field.”
The agreement is an important tool in promoting policing as a viable career option and to recruit CBRPS officers to satisfy the increasing demand. Both institutions agree that they have a responsibility to work together to better the community.
h2. Key role for mental health officer
Those living with mental illness are often misunderstood as people do not always recognize the signs and symptoms associated with their illness. This results in multiple complaints to police about people with untreated or inadequately treated mental illness, and they are likely to become involved (or more frequently involved) with the criminal justice system.
The CBRPS has worked with the district health authority to address this issue by having a full-time officer work in collaboration with health officials and the community to develop a more co-ordinated response to mental illness. The goal is to decrease criminalization and engage individuals to seek the help and resources available to help them live manageable lives.
“The goal of this partnership is to educate those with mental illness, the community and other stakeholders,” says Delton MacDonald, mental health liaison officer. “Most importantly, my role is to educate and share the information and training I receive to all CBRPS officers.
“With a collaborative approach to building awareness and spreading the word about the services available to help those with mental illness, it will create a network of knowledge, providing resources, advocacy and community outreach services to enhance the services we provide.”
Partnering with the police “is something we have been working toward for a long time,” says Brian Oram, district health authority manager of emergency and acute outpatient mental health services. “This collaboration is beneficial in educating all parties involved on how to deal with persons suffering from mental illness.
“We are extremely pleased with the work of Cst. MacDonald and the CBRPS and are already seeing the benefits of the partnership.”
With today’s tightening budgets, it can be difficult to see the good happening right before our eyes and, as with any other police service, challenge is inevitable. Taking note of the good work being done can help make the case for increasing resources and expanding into new territory.
The CBRPS is not resting on its laurels and looks forward to the challenges and opportunities the future holds, including meeting with colleagues across the country to establish best practices that can be put to use in every community.
“To be progressive and proactive, partnerships are necessary and keep the CBRPS at the top of our game,” says Burke. “By showing leadership to our citizens and continuing to work together, we are proving that challenge will not make us back down, rather make us fight harder.”