(The following presentation was submitted to the CBC for their series Beyond the Badge in the spring of 2006.)
Crime Prevention and Community Policing are phrases that have been in use for many years. It involves collaborative work between police, social agencies and the community to prevent crime. The logic is clear. It is much more cost-effective, financially and socially, to prevent crime and avoid a call to the police than to wait until criminality unfolds. At an annual estimated cost of $100,000 per year per police officer, they are the “high priced help” when it comes to responding to social problems. Involving the courts and the prison system multiplies the cost. These figures don’t begin to speak to the social implications of so many lost lives and failed human potential.
Upon reviewing the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) website, one easily feels that they fully embrace this principle. The words are quite stirring. Their Vision Statement starts with “A partnership within our community… “ The Mission statement speaks of “Working co-operatively with the members of our community…” The first of its values speaks of “being an integral part of our community”. “Outreach is a key heading on the web page. These are lofty words befitting of a progressive policing organization.
What is the reality in our neighbourhoods? Does the Ottawa Police Service “Walk the Talk” in their outreach to work with us in developing healthy, liveable communities?
From Overbrook, the reviews are mixed, but are showing some tentative signs of improvement. It was an inauspicious beginning when, about three years ago our resident’s association attempted to develop a neighbourhood watch program. The community police officer of the day failed to arrive for a scheduled appearance as Guest Speaker at our Annual General Meeting. Subsequent telephone enquiries were not returned. Interest waned, and nothing further happened.
Reports from our Community Resource Centre, however, have become more encouraging. After years of feeling “disconnected” a greater rapport between staff and the Police through a local Community Police Centre (CPC) has developed. There are regularly scheduled meetings that allow for the sharing of information and ideas. Another Community Police Officer works very well with us at a community house.
It appears then that the community police officers we now have are well intentioned, wanting to make a difference. However, we do not believe they are being provided with the resources to do the job.
For example, our CPC offices are staffed with volunteers. Often the lights are on, but no one is home. It would be completely unacceptable to have a call go unanswered when we need the police to react to an emergency. Why do we treat proactive police involvement as secondary by expecting these facilities to be staffed by volunteers?
The OPS website speaks of “OUTREACH”, yet through the entire development of our community’s relationship with the Police Service, it was us who did the reaching out. Once again, the local CPC either does not have the will, or perhaps the resources it needs to be more proactive. In hearing about the dedication of the officers we work with, I expect it is the latter.
It is not that the police need more resources, but better allocation of what is available. For example, agencies such as community resource centres, recreation facilities, Boys and Girls clubs, to name but a few, have excellent working relationships within their respective communities. They are the front line agencies deeply involved in working proactively to reduce social problems. This is the core work of addressing social issues, often providing alternatives to criminal activity. Instead of setting up separate Community Police Centres that are inadequately staffed and under utilized, better integration with existing agencies could make more sense.
Who then, can we hold responsible to ensure that the Police Service fulfills its vision of “a partnership within the community”? Should we be challenging Chief Bevan to “Walk the Talk” and ensure there is adequate resources made available for Community Policing and Crime Prevention? As Chief of Police the buck does stop with him with respect to how the department is run. However, he cannot make this happen alone.
Community policing and Crime Prevention works best as a partnership. As a community we must all recognize that Crime Prevention is one of the most cost effective investments we can make in ensuring we have a healthy liveable community. All of us, residents, businesses, and elected officials alike, must share in the responsibility to move towards this partnership vision.
I challenge Chief Bevan to be a strong champion of the value of Crime Prevention initiatives in our communities. I urge him to be forceful in his arguments. He should urge all members of his force to accept the value of this viewpoint. He should promote this vision by fighting to have the necessary allocation of resources.
To do this, he needs our help. First, we need to support these initiatives by demanding that our elected officials recognize that our Police Service needs to do more than just “react” to problems when they occur. They need to use their current resources to truly “reach out” to the community and develop meaningful Crime Prevention strategies. Time to meaningfully work with the community should be identified in their job descriptions.
Secondly, we, as citizens, need to recognize that investment in social infrastructure is key to promoting a healthy, liveable city that minimizes demands on our police service. Sadly, when we must call on the Police to respond to a situation, it is an admission of societal failure. Our long-term goal must be the continual reduction in those calls for service. This can be realized if our Police Service strives in its long-term vision to shift its focus from Crime Reaction to Crime Prevention. We all envision the same thing, a healthy, liveable city. Let’s Walk the Talk together and make this vision a reality.