Several community members gave up one of the few summer-like evenings of early June to discuss community policing options for their community. The June 6 consultation meeting, organized by the Ottawa Police Service, addressed several key questions. The main issue on everyone's mind, however, was the replacement of the Community Police Centre (CPC) formerly located in the Westgate Shopping Centre.
The consultation process began with a presentation by Staff Sargent Al Spadaccini and Staff Sargent Shamus Hall. They were assisted by a supervisor from the police call centre and two neighbourhood police officers.
The fifteen or so community representatives were given an overview of the new community policing direction and the structure of the service areas of the Ottawa Police which went into effect in January of this year. Of key importance for the meeting was the fact that the community catchment area was now much enlarged. No longer was the CPC to serve just the Carlington area, but also Hampton Park, Westboro, Iona and McKellar Park.
The officers briefly covered the role of the CPCs and the officers assigned to them. The real success factor in the smooth operation of a CPC is the volunteer element. Spadaccini outlined the six crime prevention programs in which CPCs are involved (like Block Parents and Neighbourhood Watch) and the role of the volunteers in these programs.
The major change in the volunteer role under the new service delivery model was that they no longer are taking non-emergency police reports. This is now the responsibility of the call centre staff. Supervisor Barb O'Reilly explained how the calls are logged by the centre's staff and then forwarded to the CPC officer and volunteers for follow-up.
Once the context had been presented, the officers invited comments, questions and perspectives of the community representatives in attendance.
As the facilitator moved the meeting through the five structured questions, the attendees warmed to the process and engaged in a spirited exchange of opinions, viewpoints and requests.
The lead question was a sharing of experiences with the Carlington CPC in the past. Many individuals gave instances of how they used the centre or the role they felt it played in the community.
The next question dealt with the impressions or experiences the community members had regarding the policing issues in the community and the type of support they were looking for.
This exchange produced a significant list of issues and began to define what the group wanted from a CPC operation. This included being knowledgeable about the community it was serving, especially new areas like Central Park where the streets are not even on maps yet. The vast range of needs and diversity of the population were key points raised - not everyone is secure enough to approach a police officer nor able to call or visit the police station. Cultural background, language, family situations, economics and many other factors come into play. However, a conveniently located CPC with community residents as volunteers could lessen these barriers.
Community volunteer Ida Grant emphasised the need for a more visible police presence on the streets, including more cruisers.
The discussion moved on to the criteria for the location of a CPC and what other ways it might be possible to deliver the CPC service model. Many criteria were offered and recorded on the flipcharts. Resident John Ficner succinctly summed up his requirements in saying, “I just want to say three words: visibility, accessibility, responsiveness.”
Several others in the room picked up on these concepts and enriched them with their interpretations of what this meant. In doing so, an alternative idea emerged.
Not bricks and mortar
All along the meeting had been focussing on the idea of a CPC being housed in a specific location. Observing the criteria offered for the location of a centre to serve the large area under discussion, encompassing five or more distinct communities, lead one person to suggest a mobile CPC be considered. “Like the bookmobile we used to have.”
There was an immediate positive response from the officers and the community representatives to the idea. Some suggestions were made as to how it could be housed in a mobile home or RV and position itself in key areas of the catchment area on a rotational basis. It would be well marked and identified, inviting people to come in. It could also be deployed to community events, schools, recreational areas and so on as needed.
As with a “bricks and mortar” CPC, there would be a single phone number to reach the centre no matter where it was. The CPC police officer and neighbourhood officers would still be able to drop by as required, building rapport with their service area.
The one down side noted was that volunteers traditionally like to work in their immediate community. Therefore, it would require recruiting a larger contingent of volunteers which would come into play when the mobile CPC was in their area.
A show of hands indicated a majority of the representatives present favoured consideration of the option.
Time quickly ran out on the two hour meeting. Spadaccini thanked those who came and Macies Best Western Hotel for providing the room and refreshments. He was pleased with the material gathered from the meeting. He assured everyone their remarks were taken very seriously and that there was no pre-conceived agenda to the process. He did thank the group for the excellent idea of the mobile CPC concept.
Two additional meetings were yet to be held, one with the business owners and another with the other communities in the catchment area. A report and recommendations stemming from the consultations is expected in mid-July.
A the meeting broke up, the police officers and many of the community representatives formed little groups to converse and share. This was a demonstration of the true meaning of community policing.