Pre-emptive approach to policing
CARMEN MARIE FABIO
Station 1 Community relations police officers Const. Mélanie Allard (left) and Const. Giovanni Di Legge (right) join Cmdr. Richard Thouin in outlining the station’s approach to connect with area elected representatives, senior citizens, and particularly students within its territory
Focusing on using precautionary communication rather than repression measures once kids get into trouble, Station 1 police are expanding their presence and outreach work into the community, most notably into the region’s 26 elementary and high schools. “We’re community relations officers,” said Const. Giovanni Di Legge of himself, colleague Const. Mélanie Allard, and long-time socio-community officer Const. Jean-Pierre Lévis.
“Our role is to be in the schools, to educate the kids, to communicate with them, and to do prevention.” The officers’ outreach programs also extend to area seniors’ facilities and Neighbourhood Watch programs. “I’m very happy to partner with the citizens of the region,” said Station 1 Cmdr. Richard Thouin, outlining work the officers at the station - that covers the largest geographical area of all the 33 Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) satellite stations on the Island of Montreal – have done in conjunction with neighbourhood watch projects, first in Kirkland following the November 2 elections, and more recently in Beaconsfield.
“Like I often say, security is a shared responsibility - it’s not just the job of the police.” The Station 1 territory extends to Senneville, Ste. Anne de Bellevue, and Baie d’Urfé. Thouin also stressed the importance of calling 911 as many residents maintain a perception of not wanting to disturb police with minor incidents and instead rely on municipal public security patrols. This can lead to significant lag in response time as the process of the call itself, coupled with the information vetting process, will continue to incur delays.
If the matter is deemed to require police intervention, precious time is already lost. “When people call 911, we have analysts who ask important questions including (determining) if the person is breathing, is he awake, if it’s a burglary, is it in progress, etc.” Calls are then triaged in an order of priority from 1 to 7 and statistics obtained from 911 calls give the force a better ability to allocate resources in planning their operational budgets. Di Legge said almost 85 per cent of police work done at the station is classified as repression in the form of tickets issued for traffic and municipal infractions and arrests.
By heading out into the community and particularly the schools to discuss everything from Halloween security to cyber-bullying, officers are seeking not only to reach the kids but also to change the mindset of parents. “We want them to say, ‘Why aren’t they in the schools more?’ rather than, ‘Why are they at the school?’”
Police say since the beginning of the school year, they’ve been working with area school administrative bodies to ensure their presence is well-known, both through personal visits and via the schools’ respective websites and social media platforms. Di Legge cites success achieved in a similar program in his nine years as a socio-com officer in Ville Lasalle, specifically after a change in the municipal loitering by-law.
“Some students were selling drugs and being implicated in fights,” said Di Legge. Following the 2006 loitering by-law change and the spread of social media, police recount high school related crime rates dropped significantly as a direct result of the newly implemented by-laws that saw tickets issued for fines starting at $118. While most schools have welcomed the socio-community officers into their midst, Di Legge admits some others have presented a challenge.
“Some principals want to be in control,” said Di Legge of the resistance the team has encountered. “Others have agreed to having people from the community, including the CLSC nurses, the police officers, and public speakers including anti-drug advocate and former NFL team member Alvin Powell.” While elementary school discussions centre on basic safety and security issues, the turbulent teenage years often bring in high-risk behaviours that can lead students into situations involving drugs, taxing, bullying, and theft.
“We talk about the consequences,” he said, describing to the kids what will happen should they be arrested for an infraction. The officers pass by the area schools on a weekly basis, checking in with administrators to see if there are any issues requiring police intervention. Di Legge said the greatest welcome is extended to the police by the kids themselves. “They love it,” he said, describing how at the end of police presentations, the kids often surround the officers to speak with them.
“If we have kids surrounding us, we know we’ve done a good job. We know that we’ve gotten through to them.” Di Legge said that since the 2012 implementation of Law 56 requiring schools to report cases of bullying and intimidation to the provincial ministry and to parents, reports are mandatory, “... to the point where police must be involved.”
Though criminal harassment must be defined as acts repetitive in nature, Di Legge said by the time police have been called, the incidents have typically already been ongoing. “All parents would love to see a ‘Big Brother’ or ‘Big Sister’ in the school,” he said, “so that when situations arise involving bullying, intimidation, and harassment, somebody’s there to deal with it and to give feedback to a parent.”
Officers also regularly drop in at area seniors’ facilities and in 2015 will be implementing its ‘Coffee with a Cop’ project seeking to widen the accessibility and communication with the force by stopping in at area restaurants to sit down and engage with the local population. “We’re part of the community,” said Di Legge. “We’re here as a legal resource, so use us.”