Policing North America's tourist Mecca

Phil Gavin
March 21, 2016
By Phil Gavin
More than a million tourists and visitors regularly flood into the Niagara Region, more than doubling the area's year-round population of 427,000. Policing such a vast, varied and transient population presents some very unique challenges. The Niagara Region lies on the edge of the Greater Toronto Area and covers approximately 1,850 square kilometers. There are 12 unique municipalities, with urban communities such as Niagara Falls and St. Catharines and rural areas such as Wainfleet and West Lincoln. The region is bordered by Lake Ontario to the north, Lake Erie to the south and the Niagara River and New York State to the east. The region has approximately 161 kilometers of shoreline and 1,500 square kilometers of international water surrounding its borders.

More than a million tourists and visitors regularly flood into the Niagara Region, more than doubling the area's year-round population of 427,000. Policing such a vast, varied and transient population presents some very unique challenges.

The Niagara Region lies on the edge of the Greater Toronto Area and covers approximately 1,850 square kilometers. There are 12 unique municipalities, with urban communities such as Niagara Falls and St. Catharines and rural areas such as Wainfleet and West Lincoln.

The region is bordered by Lake Ontario to the north, Lake Erie to the south and the Niagara River and New York State to the east. The region has approximately 161 kilometers of shoreline and 1,500 square kilometers of international water surrounding its borders.

The Niagara Regional Police "Force" was formed in 1971 with the amalgamation of 12 municipal services. At that time, it consisted of 398 sworn officers and 42 civilian members. It has since grown to 706 sworn officers and 310 civilian staff.

The Niagara Regional Police Service (NRPS) is currently led by its 12th chief, Jeff McGuire, who joined the service after 35 years of policing in Toronto. He was inducted as a Member of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces in 2011 in recognition of his exceptional service and contributions to policing and community development. McGuire will complete his term as president of the OACP this month.

The NRPS is considered by many to by one of the top 10 police services of Ontario's 53 police services. Its size allows for career opportunities for both sworn and civilian members.

The service is led by the chief, two deputy chiefs (operational and support services), four superintendents (district operations/emergency & investigative services/operational support/executive services) and two civilian directors (business services/information & communication technology).

{International reputation}

The award winning NRPS Video Unit was formed in 1982 as a cost-effective means of providing in-service training. It has earned an international reputation for quality and innovation and nearly 200 awards for production excellence, including winning the prestigious Law Enforcement Video Association's Award of Distinction for best overall video on nine occasions.

The four civilian members support training, graphic/web design publications and e-learning and are often called upon to capture important service events. Operational tasks include documenting crime scenes, interviews and statements, walk-throughs, re-enactments, warrant executions and other major events.

The unit began producing video-based training and services for six police agencies – including Hamilton-Wentworth, Waterloo and Halton Regional – in 1996 with the founding of the Ontario Police Video Training Alliance (OPVTA).

News of the initiative spread and the alliance became self sufficient in 2001. Cost recovery is based on a sliding scale based on the authorized strength of each member agency. The NRPS video unit manager serves as executive director and the nine member executive includes elected and appointed members from a cross section of police organizations. Work on alliance material now takes up about half of the unit's time and resources.

The OPVTA, which recently welcomed the Justice Institute of British Columbia and Carleton University Safety as its newest members, began partnering with the Ontario Police College (OPC) in 1998.

OPC subject matter experts assist with research, accompany production teams on location and help prepare training packages. This helps ensure that all OPVTA materials are consistent with both OPC training and provincial/federal legislation and standards. OPC staff extensively use alliance resources in both basic and advanced courses.

More than 130 videos, e-learning courses and support materials have been distributed to some 25,000 officers representing more than 90 police agencies throughout Ontario and several other provinces.

Videos and courses are also available online through an online portal ran in conjunction with the Canadian Police Knowledge Network (CKPN).

The experience and keen understanding of police procedures and culture reinforce the "by police, for police" approach of the NRPS Video Unit has served the NRPS and all OPVTA member agencies very well.

{New headquarters}

The NRPS will complete one of the largest projects in its history this summer with the opening of its new $65.9 million, 210,000-square-foot headquarters complex in the City of Niagara Falls.

The project has been years in the making and will bring about more than 600 police and civilian staff in one location, allowing the service to gain efficiencies in the closing of five redundant buildings.

Ground was broken for the new headquarters in November, 2013. It will house several centralized units, including property and evidence, forensic investigations, major investigative units, dispatch and 9-1-1, prisoner management and administration.

The service planned to hold public tours before the facility becomes operational, including special tours for former members. "Everybody wants to see the jail cells - from the outside," quipped Deputy Chief Joe Matthews. "We do know there is a lot of interest."

{Marine unit}

The marine/underwater search and recovery unit (USRU) work both above and below the vast waterways of the Niagara Region. In addition to their regular duties, this eight member unit supports the emergency task unit (ETU) and assists with ice rescue in the winter months.

Their training regimen is extensive and intense. The service fleet includes three patrol vessels and two personal water crafts. Unit officers are operational in SCUBA and surface supplied (helmet) diving and the unit has augmented its capability with an underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV), an underwater sled and high tech videography. Some of the divers are also qualified explosive disposal technicians.

The USRU designed and built an indoor overturned vessel dive tank, an unusual item in Canada. Divers train in the tank to enter, search and rescue/recover trapped persons.

{Operations}

The district operational branch consists of approximately 450 uniform officers, detectives, auxiliary officers and chaplains assigned to six patrol districts. The backbone of the service, they respond to some 114,000 incidents annually. Officers have the opportunities to augment their patrol capabilities by taking bicycle patrol, ATV and/or motorcycle training.

The K9 unit presently has seven police service dogs and unit uses both German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois, with a number cross trained in scent detection (explosive/narcotics).

The ETU provides specialized support to safely resolve high risk situations. Members are trained to use specialized equipment, weapons and techniques when force is necessary. The NRPS ETU is a full time hostage rescue certified team.

The explosives disposal unit (EDU) works closely with the ETU and the five part time team members have extensive training and equipment. Members resolve high risk situation using bomb suits, disruptors and "Ted & Van," our two robots.

The crisis negotiator team is made of six part time members who have been identified for their excellent communication skills and work closely with the ETU to de-escalate volatile situations.

The traffic enforcement unit works to keep the many rural and urban roadways that run through Niagara safe, augmenting enforcement with education.

The special victims unit is made of highly trained investigators who handle cases involving child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence/vulnerable sector, Internet child exploitation, technology crime, offender management, investigative analysis and firearms.

The collection and management of information on organized criminal activity is done by special investigative services. Their investigations include illegal narcotics, firearms and gang activity.

The experienced investigators in the NRPS Major Crime section include specialized investigative units such as homicide, forensic services, central fraud, traffic reconstruction, polygraph, licensing and bylaw and Crime Stoppers.

The operational support branch is made up of units that play pivotal behind the scenes roles vital to the success of the service and include court services, quality assurance, prisoner management, property and evidence and the communications unit.

The NRPS operates a central holding system for all prisoners arrested across the region. Special constables are involved in managing prisoners. This system, adopted in the last three years, has resulted in a number of efficiencies. Prisoners were previously housed at three different locations.

The communications unit handles all 911 calls in the region and streams them down to the local emergency medical and fire services communication centres. It answered more than 450,000 in-coming calls in 2015, including 122,000 emergency calls.

The executive services branch includes professional development, professional standards, corporate analysis, policy and risk management, training, recruiting, career development, corporate communication and community engagement, and the video unit.

The training unit has three classrooms, a defensive tactics gym, a range and a Closed Quarter Battle range and ensures officers meet provincial standards through both practical and academic lessons. All NRPS officers carry CEWs and the unit is a leader in Ontario in training officers on frontline deployment.

Corporate communications and community engagement are responsible for traditional media relations, social media, school resource officers and a pilot computer cyber crime unit. Members are active on social media, which has become an important tool to communicate unfiltered with the community.

The NRPS has six school resource officers assigned to area high schools. Members have not only positively impacted crime stats but, most importantly, are building relationships with youth.

The NRPS is a very busy service at the forefront of policing. Members take pride in the great work that they do and work hard to continue the service's long history of commitment to their community.

BIO

NRPS Media Relations Officer Phil Gavin is in his 18th year with the service and previously worked in patrol, investigations and emergency services. Contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 905 688-4111 x5010.

SIDEBAR

Novel approach to elder abuse

It was a case of art imitating life.

The Ontario Police Video Training Alliance, began by the Niagara Regional Police Service, contacted in June 2000 with the concept of doing a training video to increase police awareness of seniors being abused in their homes. The unit wanted to use Blue Line's national reach to get the message out to police agencies across the country through a cross platform training video.

The fictional scenario is a retired police officer writing a letter to about how unscrupulous con-men are victimizing seniors.

"Dear Blue Line," the video starts.

<I am writing to you concerning the abuse and neglect of older persons. They say, a seasoned sled slides swifter than a green one... well, I guess I’m getting quicker at everything. I’m fast becoming an expert on how tough being a senior citizen can be. After 30 years on the job, I thought I’d seen pretty much everything, all manner of misdeed. But now I’m seeing another side of the fence.

I never would have guessed just how big a problem it is, or how only one in 25 seniors will even report it.... I am hoping that you’ll give an old veteran officer a few minutes of your time to report a crime... the hidden crime, abuse and neglect of our elderly."

The video then presents a wide array of scams perpetrated on unsuspecting seniors – everything from phoney roof repairs to passive neglect by caregivers and family members. The video explains that almost all of this can involve criminal charges if officers have the foresight and interest to do something about it.

The video concludes by pointing out how to prepare seniors for court and present their evidence. It teaches police officers how to identify a crime and take the necessary initiative to assist seniors in their time of vulnerability.

A very creative piece of video training with a strong message of awareness for police. was proud to be part of it.

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