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Community infused policing: an essential service during COVID-19 and post-pandemic times

August 23, 2020  By Leanne Fitch

The first six months of 2020 has been filled with extraordinary worldwide events that we have experienced collectively in many ways. These include natural disasters, plane crashes, climate change, a global pandemic, mass shootings, protests and anti-police sentiment fuelled by racism and police brutality. Some days I feel that the world is on fire.

Though we are all in this together — though not physically all together — it is critical that we as police professionals do not lose our way during such tumultuous times. Police officers and civilian employees of all ranks must now more than ever view their service through an interdisciplinary and collaborative lens, or what I like to call “community infused policing.” We all have a part to play in community safety and well-being and I have long stated that effective community infused policing has the potential to address issues from vandalism to terrorism and all things in between. Policing is after all… all about people and to a lesser extent their things.

The police will always play a critical role in society, but how that role plays out in Canada — a country that takes pride in democracy and our enshrined Charter of Rights and Freedoms — will also be critical during COVID-19 and post pandemic times. The same can be said of other countries as well.

In Canada, I am proud we have a prime minister who resisted sending the military to our borders and who wisely resisted pressures to send armed response to First Nations blockades and anti-police demonstrations.

Now is the time to build trust and confidence in policing. We are at a worldwide precipice that calls for more than reform. We need to evolve and build upon the founding principles of our profession. Our growth can position us as caring, compassionate, ethical, trusted, intelligent and firm professionals who are dedicated to serving and protecting all individuals, families and communities.

This is not the time to further erode trust and confidence by becoming the default hammer of enforcement that is by extension the political arm of government. Providing a balanced community police service is vastly different from a community that needs to be policed.

Now is the time to build trust and confidence in policing. We are at a worldwide precipice that calls for more than reform.

Traditionally isolated communities by virtue of geography, history, race and diversity already sit on tender hooks with respect to their confidence and trust in the role of police. I genuinely believe that while the police play an essential part in helping with social ills and crime control, we cannot be all things to all people, all the time. It is therefore the responsibility of police leaders to ensure their agency’s role is balanced and shared with others outside of their own organization.

Police leaders must resist over reliance on already heavily burdened frontline officers and guard against a default to become “police state like hammers.” Police officers serving our respective communities continue responding to varied priority and 911 calls for service day-to-day and night-to-night despite the extraordinary events that swirl around them during the height of human-made or natural disasters and crisis. Indeed, some of their most dangerous calls for service with respect to intimate partner violence, domestic violence, mental health and addictions and suicides have surely increased in this unprecedented COVID time as people are isolated and confined — in some cases in their most dangerous of places. These places could be their own homes, locked-in shelters, prisons, care facilities or conversely the streets where the vulnerable homeless have nowhere else to go.

We all have a part to play to help our communities and frontline workers, including the police, stay safe — physically, emotionally and mentally — during this pandemic and the unknown times to follow. By working together, embracing the essence of community infused policing, we will not lose our way forward.

*Originally written for and published in the International Association of Women (IAWP) Police’s Women Police Magazine, 3rd quarter edition, 2020.

Leanne Fitch retired in 2019 after serving seven years as Chief of the Fredericton Police Force. A published author, she is the recipient of numerous awards and is a Member of the Order of Merit for the Police Forces (M.O.M). She is now the public relations lead for the IAWP and vice -chairperson to the inaugural Management Advisory Board for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

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