Located in a triangle between Kingston, Montreal and Ottawa along the banks of the Rideau Canal waterway lies the historic Town of Smiths Falls. Given its proximity to these three cities, as well as to the United States and Highway 401, during the summer months the town sees its population of approximately 9000 people swell with vacationers and those just passing through. This was especially true in 2011 as the Town temporarily hosted over 600 emergency evacuees from Deer Lake First Nation, whose north-western Ontario community was blanketed in thick, heavy smoke from nearby forest fires.
Although it is home to the Ontario Provincial Police’s Eastern Ontario Regional Headquarters and its Eastern Region Communications Centre, Smiths Falls is policed by its own service. With it’s motto of “Community First”, the Smiths Falls Police Service (SFPS) echoes the Town’s people-first approach and community spirit.
“I believe in sending a police car to every call,” says Chief Larry Hardy. “Every call that comes in to us is important to the person who’s reporting it, so we treat it as such.”
Hardy also says that although keeping the Town of Smiths Falls safe is his main priority, as far as he’s concerned the Town’s boundaries are not set in stone. His officers are available to back up other nearby police services and deal with criminal activity outside Town lines in the performance of their duties. “I’ve been called up to bat on that a few times,” says Hardy. “Someone will come up to me and say ‘I saw one of your cars up on so-and-so road (outside Smiths Falls’ boundaries). What were they doing up there? My answer back is simple. I tell them that the officer was doing their job. Criminals don’t have boundaries when they’re performing a crime and I don’t have boundaries when responding to them.”
As one of Ontario’s longest serving police chiefs (Hardy is in his 39th year of policing – approximately 28 years as a police chief, 22 of them in Smiths Falls) he is still, first and foremost, a community-minded police officer. As time permits, he still patrols the downtown core on foot to engage the public and he has no problem responding to calls or backing-up his officers. He cites a case a few years back where he responded to a fight in progress. Hardy laughs as he recalls the Crown’s look of confusion while reading the Incident Report. “Is this right?” the Crown asked, pointing to the part which read “While conducting a routine foot patrol in the downtown core, Chief of Police Larry Hardy responded to a reported fight in progress…”
Investing in people and technology
The SFPS has come a long way from its humble 1854 beginnings where it used citizen-constables on an as-needed basis. With a current strength of 25 uniformed officers, two part-time special constables for court and escort duties, and 10 (seven full-time, three part-time) civilian clerk/dispatchers, in 2010 they handled 14,072 calls for service – a fair amount for a town of 9000 people covering a mere 8.2 km2. To help meet this demand, the SFPS thinks outside the box by finding savings where it can, and investing wisely in both its people and technology.
As an example, from the 10 civilians that are employed by the SFPS, one is classified as an administrative assistant and the rest are all cross-trained to perform a combined clerk/dispatcher role. “We’re not just clerks, call-takers or dispatchers,” notes civilian Betty Anne Small. A 27-year veteran of the SFPS, Small says that by cross-training the civilian staff to perform each administrative role, resources can be allocated where they’re required, providing for a more cost-effective and efficient service.
The SFPS also invests heavily in training its officers and believes in providing them with new skills and opportunities. In the case of frontline patrol officers, many have been tasked with additional responsibilities. For instance, each patrol officer has also been assigned to a school within town to act as its School Resource Officer. The SFPS also isn’t shy about using other skills that the officer might bring to the table. Having learned web design before joining the SFPS in 2008, Cst. Cameron Mack maintains the SFPS website and acts as the service’s Media Relations Officer – both in addition to his duties on general patrol.
Despite being a small service, the SFPS has armed its officers with several technological tools. In 2010, they introduced voice recognition software to their in-car laptops, giving officers the ability to run voice-activated CPIC queries. And, thanks to a 2009 Civil Remedies Grant from the Ministry of the Attorney General, the SFPS became one of the first services to equip all of its frontline vehicles with mounted audio/video cameras. The cameras have proved to be a valuable asset on several fronts. They’ve significantly reduced the amount of time (and associated costs) that SFPS officers have had to spend in court. Having the cameras has also improved officer safety. “When you tell people they’re on video,” says Chief Hardy, “it’s amazing to see how quickly their attitude changes. And if they decide to challenge something, we can always take them back to the car and play the video back for them. This is reality TV at its best.”
Bargain hunter extraordinaire
Hardy is known as an innovative, progressive leader who is far from being a little long in the tooth. As one officer notes, “Not only does the Chief embrace technology, but he also has an uncanny way of finding bargains and grant money. It’s incredible what he can put together.”
In addition to the voice recognition software and frontline audio/video cameras, Hardy has managed to get the SFPS a 2009 Ford F-150 4X4 truck to help officers respond to calls during severe weather conditions, and a 2011 Dodge minivan which is being used as a Community Services vehicle. Both of these were purchased with Civil Remedies Grants.
Bargain purchases? Two recent ones within the last year include a 2004 former ambulance that the SFPS converted into a Crime Scene/Mobile Command Unit (purchased for a dollar, with a $29k Civil Remedies Grant to help stock it), and a three-year-old digital radio system purchased from the former Leamington Police Service (a $700k value which the SFPS got for $125k plus the cost of transport and installation.)
Looking to the future
Though the Town of Smiths Falls started using citizen-officers in 1854, it wasn’t until 1887 that the Town’s Chief Constable started to wear a uniform. With 1887 being recognized as the official birth date of the SFPS, they will be celebrating their 125th anniversary in 2012. Plans are underway for several events to help mark this historic milestone.
At a Sept. 12 council meeting it was announced that the SFPS would be moving out of the downtown core and into a new building in a business park on the edge of town. Hardy has long recognized that the SFPS needed more space, but he was hoping for a solution that would have allowed the service to remain in the downtown core. “While I still believe that the downtown area is the first choice for a police station,” says Hardy, “as time moves on, space in this area becomes limited and we have to look in other areas, as we did in this case.”
Hardy says that he still has a few things he wants to accomplish before he rides off into the sunset. When asked when he plans to retire, Hardy laughs and responds “when my wife tells me to.”
Small town cop tells what it’s like to fight for your life
Cst. Paul Klassen is a 15-year veteran of the SFPS who joined in 1996 after working as an officer for six years with the Toronto Police. A certified Use of Force instructor, Klassen truly understands what it’s like to fight for your life.
On New Years Eve in 2004, Klassen was driving back from the hospital with a domestic assault victim in the back of his cruiser. As they were passing through the downtown core, his female passenger suddenly screamed out “That’s him!” and pointed towards a male entering the CIBC bank. Klassen steered the car closer and asked her if she was sure. “No, that’s not him,” she replied, but something wasn’t sitting right with the veteran officer.
Klassen decided to check the guy out anyways. Exiting his vehicle, he approached the suspect in the exterior lobby of the CIBC. The suspect lunged at Klassen, knocking him off balance and sending his radio flying. Klassen’s heart sank as he watched his radio hit the floor and shatter into pieces. He was alone and the fight was on.
“That was my first mistake,” says Klassen. “I didn’t book out on my radio. Now, here I was caught up in a fight with this guy and no one knew what was going on, let alone where I was.”
Klassen tried everything to gain control of the assailant but nothing seemed to be working. The suspect kept smiling, taking everything Klassen was dishing out, all the while telling Klassen that he was going to kill him. After a long struggle, Klassen managed to get the suspect in a choke hold but the suspect reached for Klassen’s sidearm and tried to disarm him. While trying to protect his sidearm, Klassen lost control of the assailant and then found himself on the receiving end of a choke hold. Protecting his sidearm and unable to break free from the hold, Klassen felt himself starting to black out.
“This is the first time I was really scared that things might not turn out so well,” says Klassen. “We were both fighting hard – fighting dirty. I was literally fighting for my life.”
Klassen doesn’t remember how he did it but he somehow managed to break free from the assailant’s grip to continue fighting. Moments later, other officers came rushing through the door and helped Klassen gain control of the suspect.
Aside from some scrapes and bruises, Klassen ended up with a broken nose which he believes he got when the suspect was hitting his face and trying to gouge his eyes out. It turns out that before losing his radio, Klassen managed to get off a partial transmission, albeit almost unintelligible. While the other units were frantically looking for Klassen, the dispatcher kept replaying the transmission over and over until she made out what sounded to her like “CIBC.”
“They say it goes down in slow motion, but I don’t know,” says Klassen. “It was really hard to think through it. Just as fast as I was thinking, stuff was happening. I use this scenario and show the bank video footage when I’m training other officers. I’m not just the guy who’s at the front preaching. I’m the guy giving a lesson learned and showing them how because of a mistake, I almost got my ass handed to me.”