POLICING THE NATION'S CAPITAL

John Steinbachs
March 20, 2014
By John Steinbachs
"The members of the Ottawa Police Service have a unique job to do in keeping this community safe," said OPS Chief Charles Bordeleau. "We have all the policing issues of a large urban city but we also have a very large rural area in our jurisdiction. On top of that, this is the national capital, which brings its own challenges." With 943,260 people, Ottawa is the fourth most populous city in the country and among the largest geographically. Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary combined could all fit within its borders.

The elevator doors in the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) Elgin Street station open and emergency services unit officers head out, on their way to Parliament Hill. They are monitoring 1,700 demonstrators marking the 99th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide.

The crowd is split into groups representing Armenians and Turks and they are in close priximity. It's just another day of municipal policing in Canada's Capital for the more than 1,900 members of the OPS.

"The members of our service have a unique job to do in keeping this community safe," said OPS Chief Charles Bordeleau. "We have all the policing issues of a large urban city but we also have a very large rural area in our jurisdiction. On top of that, this is the national capital, which brings its own challenges."

With 943,260 people, Ottawa is the fourth most populous city in the country and among the largest geographically. Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton and Calgary combined could all fit within its borders.

• Ottawa hosts numerous demonstrations, VIP visits and traffic escorts, festivals and fairs, including the largest Canada Day events in the country, which attracts hundreds of thousands of people.

• The city is home to 943,260 people and about 6,000 diplomats.

• More than 7.3 million people visit the Ottawa region each year.

• About 80 per cent of Ottawa is farmland.

• One in four people Ottawa residents were not born in Canada.

• Half of residents report their first language as English and about 32 per cent speak French.

Ottawa continues to be one of the safest urban centres in the country, according to Statistics Canada's annual Crime Severity Index (CSI). The 2012 CSI for Canada was 75; Ottawa fell to 57.7 per cent in 2012, below the provincial median of 64.

"This is a safe city and it's a community we are proud of," said Bordeleau. "Our goal is to be a trusted leader in policing in meeting the needs of our residents today and in the future."

Being a leader means facing challenges and there are plenty in policing these days, including fiscal pressures, rising expectations of residents, technology enhancements, changing demographics and a more complex legal environment.

The OPS will host this years Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) annual meeting at the Chateau Laurier. Part of the discussion will focus on how to meet policing challenges.

The conference theme, "Innovating from our roots," stems from the need for change while remaining true to the basic and time tested principles of policing. Police leaders are recognizing the need to keep looking for efficiencies while identifying ways to improve service delivery.

"We must focus on how to innovate and change to meet these pressures," noted Bordeleau. "Many of us have started initiatives to address our challenges and this meeting will assist us in taking a look at what is working and what is not working."

The 2014 OACP meeting is a great opportunity to share best practices and discuss how to continue moving policing forward, Bordeleau added.

"It forces us to look at the services we are providing, determine which ones are the responsibility of police and then find ways to deliver them more effectively and efficiently," he said. "Policing today is about innovation and creating opportunity."

{Improving efficiency}

The OPS embarked on a service initiative in 2012, designed to ensure it can meet the policing needs of the community while dealing with financial challenges. It is reviewing service from "call to close," looking for efficiencies.

"We're looking at how we do business, what partnerships we have and where we can improve in order to identify efficiencies and savings that can be put back into front line service," said review leader Insp. Steve Bell.

An example of the new thinking is a mobile response team, in partnership with The Ottawa Hospital, to assist people dealing with mental health issues when they come in contact with police. The team works to rapidly get them the help and attention they need.

The project has psychiatrists working alongside police officers from the OPS Mental Health Unit. They can access medical history on site, provide a quick assessment and help determine whether apprehension was warranted and/or provide appropriate follow up services at the scene.

"We are pleased with the results of the project so far," said S/Sgt. Dana Reynolds, who heads the team. "Being able to respond to calls as they are actually happening has a dramatic impact on the outcome of these incidents. We hope to increase opportunities to use the mobile team as the project progresses."

In one incident, officers responded to a call about a barricaded person. The subject appeared to suffer from a mental illness. The team attended with a doctor who was familiar with the man, knew his medical history and was able to talk him out of the residence without incident.

The project assists people in getting the help they need, reducing officer time on calls and emergency room waits for police, patients and hospital staff. 

Another creative partnership is the Targeted Engagement and Diversion (TED) program in a local homeless shelter. Introduced earlier this year, it offers an alternative way to deal with people who have chronic mental health or substance use issues. Homeless people with these problems who frequently come in contact with emergency medical services or are the subject of public disorder complaints are taken to the treatment facility rather than the hospital.

TED staff know them and they can get quicker attention without the need to tie up police and paramedic resources at the hospital.

"The TED program gets people the help they need and reduces officer time on some calls," said Insp. Chris Rheaume, who is responsible for Ottawa's downtown. "The program has been well received by members of the public and our officers."

The desire to innovate and rethink chronic issues lead Bordeleau to declare three priorities for the service which resonate with the community and members.

"The strategies developed in relation to each of these priorities demonstrate the importance of dedicating appropriate resources and implementing community engagement and partnerships to find solutions to these problems," said Bordeleau.

{Violence against women}

"Violence against women is a serious and pervasive problem that crosses every culture, social boundary and affects every community," said Insp. Joan McKenna, the senior officer in charge of leading the effort.

"The role of police has to be more than simply arresting those who break the law and investigating crimes. Our strategies must include educating people, especially young men and boys, about ending violence against women, as well as challenging everyone to speak out and think about their own beliefs, language and actions on this issue."

The OPS is researching best practices in response to VAW, how best to allocate resources to address it and developing collaborative prevention strategies.

"There is great work being done in our community through groups like the Ottawa Coalition To End Violence Against Women and awareness campaigns like Shine the Light and White Ribbon," said McKenna. "These efforts enable us to reach out to victims, let everyone know that violence against women will not be tolerated and provide women with resources to help them."

{Traffic and road safety}

Public surveys of residents have shown road safety to be a top concern. With such a large area, it presents a big challenge. Community partners like Safer Roads Ottawa, Crime Prevention Ottawa and MADD help the service educate commuters and promoting safety on roadways.

The Safer Roads Ottawa program, a partnership between police, public health, public works, fire and paramedic services, engages the community to make Ottawa a safer traffic environment.

"One unique enforcement and awareness initiative that I like to highlight is the Selective Traffic Enforcement Program," said Supt. Scott Nystedt of the OPS Emergency Operations Division.

"Each month, two driving behaviours are targeted. We let the public know in advance what the focus will be and we regularly report back to the public with the results of the enforcement. It has received positive reviews throughout the community and organization."

{Guns and gangs}

The OPS Guns and Gangs Section was established in 2001 to assist in reducing gun violence and gang crime through education, enforcement and community mobilization.  

The service continues to employ a targeted, sustained and effective enforcement aimed at criminal gang activity such as drug trafficking, firearm possession and trafficking, robberies, home takeovers, pimping and murder.

The service held a gang symposium in 2012, a community-led conference to address the gang issue. The resulting 27 recommendations became Ottawa's first gang strategy, a three year road map for action.

A key focus of the OPS effort against gangs is prevention. This includes ongoing collaboration with community partners like Crime Prevention Ottawa, Youth Services Bureau, the OPS Youth Section and the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. The OPS works with these groups to engage youth and divert them from the gang lifestyle.

"We know the impact of gangs in our cities and what can happen to young people who become involved. Providing alternatives to joining gangs is equally important to gang suppression strategies," said OPS Duty Insp. John Medeiros.

{Community service}

While the organization is focused on the future, Bordeleau said he knows the service can only get there with the professionalism of members.

"The women and men of the OPS are dedicated to serving this community," said Bordeleau. "Everywhere I go, I hear stories from residents where our officers and members made a positive difference in their lives. That can range from prompt service to calls, volunteerism or heroism."

For example, a young woman jumped from a bridge into the frigid waters of the Rideau River in April, ignoring officers' efforts to calm her. Firefighters didn't have enough time to deploy their rescue boat.    The current was fast and officers needed to react quickly. With some officers attempting to pin point the woman's bobbing head in the water, Cst. Colin Bowie went to another bridge downstream, removed his duty belt and jumped into the water using the back seat of a cruiser as a floatation device. 

He was able to grab the young woman. Other constables waded into the frigid water to pull the two ashore.

"This is just one example of the work our members do. It's these types of actions that represent the best qualities of our service," said Bordeleau.

{Looking after members}

The chance to help people is the reason members choose to work for the OPS, said Bordeleau, but he adds it's the job of the service to take care of its members. That's why he promotes the idea that everyone matters.

"Civilian or sworn, everyone adds value and has the potential to contribute to our mission for the safety and security of our community," continued Bordeleau. "As chief, it's my job to help them understand how they can do that, recognize the work they are doing to contribute and give them the tools and the environment to maximize their contribution."

In part, that can be accomplished by understanding what members are facing and investing in their health and wellness.

"There is a whole new generation of officers who were raised differently and have different priorities and expectations than before," Bordeleau said. "Flexibility and adaptation have to apply to them as well."

He is particularly proud of a health and wellness program provided to both civilian and sworn members.

Started in 2011, the Real You program is the first of its kind for a Canadian police service. It focuses on medical, psychological, dietary and fitness components as an approach to attaining a healthier lifestyle.

One component is health risk screening. So far, illnesses, disorders and diseases like diabetes, cancer, hypertension, addiction, mental illness, post traumatic stress disorder, heart disease, sleep disorders and depression/anxiety have been diagnosed. In 90 per cent of cases, the participants had family doctors who failed to diagnose these conditions.

"Public service is a high calling," concluded Bordeleau. "Police services across Ontario and Canada are being innovative. The question is, how do we tap into what each of us is doing and share our successes?"

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