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Halifax increased police presence


April 29, 2013
By Olivia Schneider

677 words – MR

Police visibility important in busy season

by Olivia Schneider

The boardwalk in Halifax stretches three kilometres across the city’s historic harbour and is home to museums, restaurants and retail shops. It’s open year-round and always accessible to the public but really comes to life during the warm months.

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Some 1.2 million people visited Halifax between July and September 2011, according to Destination Halifax, with the boardwalk one of the city’s most visited spots. Its wooden path fills with tourists and locals, who are busy shopping, eating, drinking, snapping photos and checking out local attractions. The historic Pier 21 is popular; a museum there commemorates the most famous entry point for generations of people immigrating to Canada.

Mingling with the crowd is Cst. Shawn Currie, riding his bicycle along the boardwalk. Currie has been a police officer in the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) for more than 20 years and spends about half his time patrolling the waterfront in the summer.

As the capital of Nova Scotia – described on licence plates as “Canada’s Ocean Playground” – and the largest Canadian city east of Montreal, it’s no surprise Halifax draws a lot of tourists; they love the city’s mix of historic sites and modern fun.

One sight visitors don’t expect to see is a police officer cycling along the boardwalk, Currie says. Tourists – and even local residents – frequently ask why he’s on a bicycle. “It’s part of my job,” he replies. “I can get places and easily stop and talk to people. Plus, the health benefits are great, too.”

Currie is one of many HRM police officers contributing to an increased summer presence in Halifax’s high traffic areas – mainly the downtown area and the waterfront. “There are so many more people in the city,” Currie says. For example, every summer day last year “there were 2,500 people coming off the cruise ships alone.”

Downtown Halifax is a magnet for people all year round, not just in the summer. The population has two dynamics. With three major universities and various colleges there’s an abundance of students from September to May. The tourists arrive when the the students leave.

The city’s vibrant restaurant and bar culture – concentrated in the downtown area – led to the creation of the Downtown Safety Strategy, established in 2012. It adds an increased police presence between midnight and 5 AM in the downtown core every Thursday to Saturday, plus Sundays on long weekends. It runs from June to October, catching the September return of students. Charges laid during the strategy’s patrol are primarily for assault and public intoxication.

The congestion of downtown revellers may not be unique to the summer but certainly increases during the warm weather. Starting the first week of May, patios bloom outside many restaurants and bars. Last summer there were more than 30 open. Some downtown routes, like Argyle Street, are home to many spots to eat and drink, most with patios. Currie says the patio proliferation increases the number of charges laid, which he attributes not to the patios but the increased number of people they attract.

If a key part of the strategy is having more officers patrolling the streets, it’s equally important for police to communicate constantly with citizens as they walk – or cycle – their beat. “It’s interactive,” Currie says.

Many local businesses, especially bars, employ their own security and it’s important to keep the lines of communication open with police. The Downtown Strategy also encourages police officers to patrol the interior of bars.

Patrolling officers are obviously there to deal with incidents in progress, but also keep an eye out for potential instigators or victims. “We’re essentially preventing crimes before they actually happen,” says Currie. This proactive approach to policing is working. Since its launch last year, Currie says there have been 2,000 fewer calls for service.

Currie believes Halifax’s increased police presence and summer visibility, whether on foot or bicycle, helps to prevent many problems and reassure visitors and locals alike.

“It’s important to see we’re there,” he says. “We’re not only responding to people’s calls.”