When you are a police service in the town of Morden, Manitoba, population 7,700 (give or take a few) are you rural or urban? The answer is yes to both although there was a time when the Morden Police Service was purely a rural law enforcement agency. The years have seen incredible growth and with that growth comes all of the responsibility of an emerging urban area.
The force was officially founded 120 years ago in 1891 when James Atkin became the first appointed constable. Being a police officer in the region more than 100 hundred years ago still involved cross-training but the areas of expertise have changed significantly. A century ago a constable was also the local sanitation officer, and had such various and diverse duties as nailing down loose boards on the town sidewalks, measuring water levels in fire wells, enforcing the dog tax and inspecting buildings.
The 21st century Morden Police constable still has plenty of duties but all of them are directly related to law enforcement in a rapidly growing community. Today’s force consists of 12 constables, 2 sergeants, a chief, a newly arrived K-9 Unit, a special constable and an admin for a total of 16 staff running 24 hours a day, seven days a week and dealing with virtually all the crime a major metropolitan center like Winnipeg has only on a smaller scale.
With the diversity of crime a growing community brings comes a diversity of training and cross-training that many would not expect in a force for a community like Morden.
Police officers are trained as Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCO), Traffic Investigations, Crisis Negotiation, Commercial Vehicle Inspection, K-9, Drug Investigation, Intelligence, Drug Recognition Expert, Field Sobriety Testing, DataMaster, Basic Firearms Instructor, Forensic Interviewing, Major Crimes, and more. Members receive most of this training through the Winnipeg Police Service, Brandon Police Service, the RCMP, and attending Canadian Police College courses in Ottawa.
All of this specialized training has come as a result of Morden being situated in one of the fastest growing regions of Manitoba... a growth spurt that has brought with it a number of challenges.
“The biggest challenge is keeping up on training with specialized services in the various areas of police work,” said Police Chief Brad Neduzak. “It’s no longer sufficient to just write parking and traffic tickets, there’s a lot more going on in our communities that are transitioning from rural to urban”.
With a compliment of 12 constables some might think that Morden is well policed with an average of one officer for every 641 residents but the need to cross-train means that officers are often not on the street as they perform specialized duties related to their unique training.
“You're taking those people off the street at times,” said Neduzak. “For instance, our SOCO members can be taken off the street for three or four hours to process a simple break and enter crime scene. When you start to branch off and specialize there’s considerable amount of time the officers must take off the street .”
While the small size of the force combined with the cross-training can have its drawbacks in terms of officers being pulled from the streets to perform specialized duties, there are many positives to it as well.
“You can basically utilize one officer in various areas,” said Neduzak. “In the bigger centers if you are in a drug investigative section for instance, then that is exclusively what you do. Those officers would not be attending regular calls for service such as domestics, break and enters or alarm calls. We have a couple of officers trained in drug investigations, but they still have to work their regular shifts, take the calls, and deal with all the other files as well, be it minor or major in nature.”
While there has always been a level of specialized training in the force, the amount and nature of it has changed over the years as more urban issues like drugs enter into the community. Morden hasn't forgotten about the basics though and have responded to community concerns by creating a traffic unit which each member performs in rotation.
Morden is not the lone police force in the region, there is a local detachment of the RCMP as well as neighbouring Winkler Police Service just 10 minutes down the road and the Altona Police Service less than an hour away.
There was a time when area police forces had little to do with each other, but as crime becomes transient in nature with criminals moving from community to community in a matter of days, police forces have had to adapt. This has effectively increased the policed population to 25,000 people when you include the rural municipality and Winkler.
Morden shares a local records database with Winkler and Altona allowing for a level of granularity that is far more detailed than CPIC with officers able to cross reference and access police reports throughout the area.
In many ways Morden, Winkler and Altona have developed many of the hallmarks of a regional police force without the official structure. Morden and Winkler even share the same police association and often leverage each other’s strengths when the need arises.
Every year at the end of August the population of Morden grows to between 60-75,000 as visitors from Winnipeg and throughout the province flood the town for the popular Corn & Apple Festival. There is no police force that is prepared to manage its own community’s population growing by this much over the space of three days and it is the close relationship and geography shared by Morden and Winkler that help police deal with enforcement needs as Winkler sends officers to assist. Morden reciprocates during Winkler’s Harvest Festival as well.
It is this unique mix of attributes – a rapidly growing urbanizing population combined with one of the largest festivals in the province - that have driven Morden to take on some skill sets not typically found in a rural force – like adding a K-9 Unit for instance.
Just over a year old, Chase is a Belgian Malinois that has a lot in common with her human counter-parts in that she wears more than one hat as well.
“When we spoke with the Winnipeg Police Service K-9 section, they strongly recommended we have a cross-trained K-9,” said Neduzak. “In the bigger urban centers they have a specific dog that searches for drugs exclusively, ones that do search and rescue and ones that just track. In a rural area you're going to have a multitude of these calls, but not necessarily the volume to train a dog in one specific area. Just as our officers are cross-trained, we have a K-9 that is cross-trained for a much broader use.”
With a mandate of providing the community with the best possible service they can and a future that points to continued growth and urbanization, the Morden Police Service is focused on seeking the best training and technology they can to meet the need.
Morden members can also be found working outside the community and volunteering within. During the 2010 Vancouver Olympics Morden had the opportunity to send two of its members. Other members have taken active roles coaching local youth sports teams and youth organizations. Morden has also assisted with local charities and during the summer of 2011 hosted its first fishing derby in support of the Blue Ribbon Society Fund.
“The focus for the future would be to continue to stay on top of the latest policing techniques in order to keep up with our growing population and the changing issues,” said Neduzak. "We realize that we may not be able to sustain a lot of the specialized services that maybe bigger urban services have, but there is specialized training and equipment that will help us do our jobs more effectively. If you don't keep up, you're going to fall behind real quick. There’s no point in having a police service that is half trained, half equipped and only able to do half a job. Our community and the citizens deserve more. We wouldn't be doing anyone justice to operate that way.“