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PROFILE ON HALIFAX REGIONAL POLICE


March 27, 2013
By Theresa Rath

789 words – MR

Halifax Regional Police: Balancing enforcement and outreach through crime reduction

by Theresa Rath

Ask any Haligonian – yes, that’s what we proudly call ourselves – and we’ll likely tell you Halifax is best known for its rich history and our distinctive down-home Maritime hospitality.

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As the largest metropolitan area east of Québec City, Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) is home to more than 400,000 people, a number which swells each September with students infiltrating the area to attend one of our numerous academic institutions. A port city, Halifax has a thriving business community and a vibrant night life.

Halifax is particularly unique in that it’s one of the few Canadian municipalities served by two police agencies. Halifax Regional Police (HRP) serves the urban core while Halifax District RCMP polices the suburban and rural areas. Serving as HRM Partners in Policing, the two agencies have integrated many of their business units to create efficiencies to better serve their communities.

One example is the criminal investigation division; all investigators, whether HRP or RCMP, work collaboratively in units to solve violent and property crimes such as homicides, attempted homicides, drug offences, thefts of motor vehicles and break and enters, to name a few. While the patrol division is not integrated, officers regularly assist each other on calls for service.

The two police services created a crime reduction strategy to address crime and quality-of-life issues in 2005. While crime rates fluctuate, often in a cyclical fashion, it spiked in 2004-05 and police recognized they needed to serve the community differently. Known as the community response model of policing within HRM, this strategy serves to decrease crime, particularly violent crime, while at the same time addressing quality-of-life issues to enhance community safety. Its multi-faceted approach includes zone policing, directed patrols, a robust beat program, offender targeting, offender management through regular breach checks and a strategic approach to gun crimes and gangs.

Another key ingredient is Comstat, which Chief Jean-Michel Blais, HRP’s new leader as of October 2012, views as the nerve centre of the crime reduction strategy. Modelled after New York City’s program, Comstat is a statistically-rich and anecdotally-bias-free approach to policing which helps to identify crime trends and allow for the effective deployment of resources to address them and prevent additional offences from occurring. Another important layer of Comstat is communication with citizens about the trends as an effective form of crime prevention and public safety.

If Comstat is the nerve centre of the model, community outreach is its heart. The strategy places specific officers, known as community response officers, at the centre of the community. They get to know residents and businesses so they can identify, solve and/or prevent crime and quality-of-life issues. This approach is particularly important in public housing areas, which may be under-resourced and require extra support to address crime and provide resources, allowing residents to attain the skills they need to make their own areas self-sufficient, viable and sustainable.

By all accounts, the model is working well. Crime has been trending downward or holding steady since 2006 and an annual citizen survey indicates people feel safe despite public safety remaining one of their top priorities. While violent crime, particularly gun play, remains a concern in Halifax, this strategy has put police on the right path, with homicides and shootings trending downward.

The CR model isn’t the only guiding light within HRP. Blais articulated his values for the organization early on in his tenure, knowing that many of these attributes speak to employees because of our own personal and professional values. Blais will strive to ensure HRP is fiscally responsible, accountable, flexible, collaborative, respectful, open and communicative while serving as change agents.

Cst. Randy Wood, this year’s winner of the Blue Line Police Leadership Award, epitomizes these values and the CR policing model, particularly since he found the delicate balance between enforcement and outreach in North Dartmouth. As a community response officer for six years, a role he left in January 2013 to become an investigator, Wood was the first officer whom investigators would call when a major crime occurred in the area and was equally respected by the citizens in the community he served. Many community members affectionately called him ‘our Randy.’

HRP is privileged to have this honour bestowed on one our members. Wood is the perfect choice; he’s a leader no matter where he goes, what position he holds or whether considering his police work, community outreach or values. While he was driven by HRP’s crime reduction strategy when addressing crime, it was heart – and a whole lot of it – that impelled him to serve a geographic area that he came to know as ‘his’ community.

BIO

Theresa Rath is HRPs Public Relations Manager.