Rural policing not what it used to be
By Peter Cantelon
By Peter Cantelon
1304 words – MR Cover 2 – October 2016
Rural policing not what it used to be
by Peter Cantelon
Morden, Manitoba has 7,700 residents, give or take a few. Is the Morden Police Service (MPS) urban or rural? It is both.
Although the MPS was once purely a rural law enforcement agency, Morden has grown substantially and the service now polices an emerging urban area.
The MPS was officially founded in 1891 when James Atkin was appointed the first constable. His duties included acting as the town’s sanitation officer, nailing down loose boards on town sidewalks, measuring water levels in fire wells, enforcing the dog tax and inspecting buildings.
A second constable was hired in 1931 as a night watchman and two part-time officers, known as “Saturday Night Policemen,” helped keep the peace during the overnight hours.
Morden constables continued doubling as sanitation officers until 1950, when Bill Larke was hired as the first chief, but were still called upon for a variety of other duties, including reading the town’s newly installed water meters. Larke served as chief until 1978.
A third constable was hired in 1964. Until this time, constables had no uniform and used their own vehicles, including bicycles, for transportation. Morden didn’t purchase its first police car until 1967.
Today’s officers still have plenty of duties but they’re all directly related to law enforcement in a rapidly growing community. The service has grown to 12 constables, two sergeants, a chief, newly arrived K-9 Unit, a special constable and an admin. They deal with virtually all of the crime seen in a major metropolitan centre like Winnipeg, only on a smaller scale.
With the diversity of crime comes a diversity of training and cross-training that you might not expect in a community like Morden, including Scenes of Crime Officer (SOCO), traffic investigations, crisis negotiation, commercial vehicle inspection, K-9, drug investigation, intelligence, drug recognition, field sobriety testing, datamaster, basic firearms instructor, forensic interviewing, major crimes and more.
Members receive most of this training through the Winnipeg and Brandon police services, the RCMP and CPC courses in Ottawa. All of this specialized training is a result of Morden being situated in one of Manitoba’s fastest growing regions, which has presented its share of challenges.
“The biggest challenge is keeping up on training with specialized services in the various areas of police work,” said MPS Chief Brad Neduzak. “It’s no longer sufficient to just write parking and traffic tickets; there’s a lot more going on in our communities that are transitioning from the rural to the urban”.
With a ratio of one officer per 641 residents, some may think Morden is well policed but the need to cross-train means officers are often not on the street as they perform specialized duties related to their unique training.
“Our SOCO members can be taken off the street for three or four hours to process a simple break and enter crime scene,” explains Neduzak. “There’s considerable amount of time that the officers are taken off the street when you start to branch off and specialize.”
Given the force’s small size, the cross-training can have its drawbacks but there are also many positives.
“You can basically utilize one officer in various areas,” said Neduzak. “In the bigger centres if you are in a drug investigative section, for instance, then that is exclusively what you do. Those officers would not be attending regular calls for service such as domestics, break and enters or alarm calls.
“We have a couple of officers trained in drug investigations, but they still have to work their regular shifts, take the calls, and deal with all the other files as well, be it minor or major in nature.”
While there has always been a level of specialized training in the force, the amount and nature of it has changed over the years with the arrival of urban issues such as drug use. Morden hasn’t forgotten about the basics though, and has responded to community concerns by creating a traffic unit. Each member takes a turn in rotation.
Morden is not the lone police force in the region. A local RCMP detachment and the neighbouring Winkler Police Service are just 10 minutes down the road and the Altona Police Service is less than an hour away.
There was a time when area police forces had little to do with each other, but as criminals began moving from community to community, police forces had to adapt. This has effectively increased the policed population to 25,000 people when you include the rural municipality and Winkler.
Morden shares a local records database with Winkler and Altona, allowing for far more detail than CPIC. Officers can cross reference and access police reports from throughout the area.
In many ways Morden, Winkler and Altona have developed many of the hallmarks of a regional police force without the official structure. Morden and Winkler even share the same police association and often leverage each other’s strengths when the need arises.
Morden’s population grows to between 60,000 to 75,000 each year at the end of August as visitors flood in from across the province to the popular three day Corn & Apple Festival. No police force can manage so many visitors on its own. The MPS depends on its close relationship and proximity with Winkler, which sends officers to assist. Morden returns the favour by sending officers each year to help out during Winkler’s Harvest Festival.
It is this unique mix of attributes – a rapidly growing urbanizing population combined with one of the largest festivals in the province – that have driven Morden to take on some skillsets not typically found in a rural force – like adding a K-9 Unit.
Just over a year old, Chase is a Belgian Malinois who has a lot in common with her human counterparts in that she also wears more than one hat.
“When we spoke with the Winnipeg Police Service K-9 section, they strongly recommended we have a cross-trained K-9,” said Neduzak. “In the bigger urban centres they have a specific dog that searches for drugs exclusively, ones that do search and rescue and ones that just track.
“In a rural area you’re going to have a multitude of these calls, but not necessarily the volume to train a dog in one specific area. Just as our officers are cross-trained, we have a K-9 that is cross-trained for a much broader use.”
With a mandate of providing the community with the best possible service and a future that points to continued growth and urbanization, the MPS is focused on seeking the best training and technology to meet the need.
“The focus for the future would be to continue to stay on top of the latest policing techniques in order to keep up with our growing population and the changing issues,” said Neduzak.
“We realize that we may not be able to sustain a lot of the specialized services that maybe bigger urban services have, but there is specialized training and equipment that will help us do our jobs more effectively. If you don’t keep up, you’re going to fall behind real quick.
}There’s no point in having a police service that is half trained, half equipped that is going to do a half decent job. Our community and the citizens deserve more. We wouldn’t be doing anyone justice to operate that way.”
Morden police officers can be found working outside the community and volunteering within. The MPS sent two members to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and other members have taken active roles coaching local youth sports teams and youth organizations.
Morden has also assisted with local charities and during the summer of 2011 hosted its first fishing derby in support of the Blue Ribbon Society Fund.