I recently had the opportunity to sit down for a coffee at the Carrot with a neighbour of mine who is an officer with the Edmonton Police Service. I had asked him for a meeting because – while I certainly have my own opinions and thoughts on crime and policing in Edmonton – I wanted to get some ideas from someone who is actually out there every day doing the work.
Two of the first strategies he suggested were increasing the number of beat officers and using geographic policing. I’m a fan of both strategies because they play a big role in improving the relationships between citizens and EPS. Beat officers can be even more effective when on foot or bicycle, being more in tune with their surroundings while having a more open and visible, presence. The result is a dramatic increase in perceived safety, and a reduction in “broken windows” type problems, such as graffiti.
Not only are beat officers out in the community, getting to know the strengths and problem areas (and enhancing policing and increasing safety in the process), but community members, seeing these police, often get to know them and consider them part of the community. People are far more likely to feel comfortable approaching the police with an issue if they have met some of the great officers out there. Beat officers are also especially well suited to the kind of proactive policing that Edmonton needs to begin to address the root causes of crime.
Familiarity with a community or neighbourhood can also help police to better advocate for beneficial changes. I am reminded of the Community Standards committee hearing on the fate of the Cromdale Hotel, when Officer Hoople spoke in favour of demolition along with myself and many other concerned community members.
Liaison committees between the police and communities, such as the Indo-Canadian Liaison Committee or the LGBT Liaison Committee, also play a part in enhancing relationships. However, these committees must be sure that they are providing the people they are intended to represent an opportunity to share their concerns with the police and must do more than just communicate the police’s position. I was personally quite disappointed in the LGBT Liason Committee’s discussions with community members following the homophobic attack on Shannon Barry last spring, and I believe that this must be a fully two-way dialogue to be successful.
Not surprisingly, my neighbour was quick to point out that effective policing does require more boots on the streets, but he also emphasized the need for more generalists and more experienced mentors for new officers within the force is also important. I was surprised to learn that the vast majority of officers who do training are only third year officers. That’s not to say that those officers do not have some valuable knowledge to contribute, simply that perhaps there’s merit in having officers of a longer tenure play a more significant role in training new recruits. Beat officers training recruits on the same beat could pass on the valuable local community knowledge.
Overall, I believe these strategies – and in particular those that improve communication and relationships between communities and the police – will benefit all of Edmonton. All this requires cooperation, hard work, public involvement and officers that aren’t afraid to be out in communities with an ear to the ground. Getting tough on crime requires friendly, familiar faces.