OPP shares new policing model with Assiginack council

MANITOWANING— Community Services Officer Constable Al Boyd and Manitoulin Detachment Commander Staff Sergeant Kevin Webb made a delegation to Assiginack council recently, hoping to explain the Ontario Provincial Police’s new approach to policing and address rising police cost concerns.

Constable Boyd gave a PowerPoint presentation on the Ontario Mobilization and Engagement Model of Community Policing, explaining that it is broken down into four quadrants: enforcement and crime suppression; community mobilization and crime prevention; community engagement and liaison; and community safety and consultation.

“This concept is not new and has been around since the start of policing—we can’t do it alone, we need community help,” the constable began.

He recalled his own rookie year when he was told by the senior officers on Manitoulin to “get out of the cruiser” and get engaged in the community.

From the years 1972 to 2004, the OPP reports that crime rate has decreased, yet the police costs have increased, Constable Boyd admitted. “However,” he added, “social disorder is on the rise and police are responding to calls that they never had to deal with before. Police are now marriage counsellors, social workers, child welfare workers and are dealing with mental health issues now more than ever before.” When officers receive a call regarding someone facing a mental health emergency, two officers must be assigned to that person until a doctor has seen them and made a decision on the next steps of care,” he explained.

Constable Boyd said the community and police must work together to assess, plan and then act. He cites some recent examples of how this model has worked right here on Manitoulin.

In 2000, Manitoulin had the highest impaired driving rate in all of Ontario, Constable Boyd told council. It was established that one is seven drivers was driving impaired. “As a police service, we looked at this and met with the Manitoulin Injury Prevention Coalition and came up with Operation Lookout, not a new concept but new to Manitoulin, which encouraged the public to report drunk drivers,” he said, noting that Manitoulin Transport came on as a sponsor, donating funds toward billboards on all of Manitoulin’s major highways that encouraged drivers to call police to report drunk drivers.

“Fifteen years later and now Manitoulin is 25th in the province for impaired drivers,” he said.

Constable Boyd next spoke of a rash of vandalism that occurred at the Manitowaning beach area. He came and met with concerned community members and started a neighbourhood watch group, which is still in existence today.

The last example given by the community services officer was of the three child drownings in two years on the east end of Manitoulin. The Manitoulin Injury Prevention Coalition again met and determined that a common cause in all of the drowning was parent inattention. Constable Boyd and the coalition began a series of presentations across the Island, including at daycares, presenting children with beach towels that were partially funded by the municipalities that included the tagline ‘drownings are preventable: are you watching your children?’

The rise in social disorder, he stated, is due to such problems facing our communities as poverty, addictions, mental health issues, substandard housing, negative parenting, ignorance and illiteracy and inequities. “Without getting a handle on these things, costs will only go up,” he added.

“These are now the things we deal with on a day-to-day basis,” the constable said.

Something new the Manitoulin OPP is undertaking is ‘focussed patrols’ whereby communities with specific concerns, typically brought forward by municipal representatives at the Community Policing Advisory Committee, have those concerns addressed by police. In Billings, drivers using excessive speeds coming into the village of Kagawong were causing much concern for community members so OPP officers stationed cruisers along the hill to deter those speeders and hopefully put a stop to the problem. A four-way stop in Tehkummah also became an OPP focussed patrol hub, as will the Highway 6 corridor at the Island’s east end where concerns about speeding ferry traffic will be targeted.

Part of the community/police cooperation model also brings about many committees and coalitions, including a new drug strategy coalition that has been formed to deal with the increase in drug abuse and addictions on Manitoulin.

“This is the wave of the future for the OPP,” Constable Boyd said. “We need to stop working in a silo, and police aren’t the only ones doing so.”

“Like everyone else, police are faced with fiscal cuts, doing more with less,” Staff Sgt. Webb addressed council. “This model is already in play here, and volunteerism is strong on Manitoulin.”

Staff Sgt. Webb said that Manitoulin’s proactive nature is key to using this model effectively which has the ultimate goal of eliminating all threats to the public.

“I believe that the communities on Manitoulin are already ahead of the game (in terms of the engagement model),” the staff sergeant said.

“It seems like a tremendous amount is falling back on the community itself,” Councillor Leslie Fields addressed Staff Sgt. Webb. “How much longer are the municipalities supposed to be the jack-of-all-trades? How much more can communities fill in the gaps? People are wearing out.”

Constable Boyd agreed, noting “it is an unfortunate situation (volunteer burnout.) It’s something that the police, municipalities and volunteers can’t do alone. If everyone does a little bit, stuff gets done.”

“Is there a plan to attract new blood? Most of these boards and committees have the same people on them,” Mayor Paul Moffat asked.

“There has to be a way of dealing with it and being effective,” Councillor Fields added. “I don’t know that any one of us saw a foot patrol this summer, nor a marine patrol. There’s no better policing than having an officer going down the street and talking to people.” Constable Boyd noted that Assiginack has that in Officers Hart, Mellan and Hovingh.

“And that’s one of the greatest things about having an office here,” Councillor Fields added, noting how valuable those officers are to the Assiginack community, both in uniform and plainclothes. She then asked the staff sergeant point blank: “What is going to happen to the (detachment) building?”

“It is status quo,” he responded. “I have had no indication of any changes at this point. And we’ve just spent a significant amount of money on the building because of water damage.” Staff Sgt. Webb noted that there is money being put aside for new detachment offices across the province, but this would not happen anytime soon.