Sidney’s new community policing officer says “social challenges require social innovation” after assuming the position last month.
Const. Paul Mittelsteadt made that comment in an interview with the Peninsula News Review that also included Staff Sgt. Wayne Conley, who commands the Sidney/North Saanich RCMP detachment. Mittelsteadt assumed the position Aug. 18, replacing Const. Meighan Massy, who had held the position from September 2017 to January 2020.
“So it has been a while getting that position filled again — but we got a good guy in there,” said Conley of Mittelsteadt, who has been with the local detachment for five years.
While Sidney might have a reputation for being conservative and removed from the policing issues facing downtown Victoria, the reality is a different one, said Mittelsteadt in making the case for a more progressive practice of community policing.
“We are still pretty close and we still see a little bit of spillover from what is going on [in downtown Victoria],” he said. Perhaps the most visible demonstration of this development happened during the peak of the response during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many homeless individuals ventured north up the Saanich Peninsula.
This reality has made working with the homeless and other groups a major priority of community policing. “Social challenges require social innovation,” said Mittelsteadt. “By that I mean that we want to improve outcomes for vulnerable people and the vulnerable people aren’t just the homeless, but they could also be the elderly. There could be a bunch of scenarios.”
To this end, Sidney/North Saanich RCMP officers including Mittelsteadt have been working with a provincial outreach worker, who visits Sidney weekly.
Vulnerable individuals including seniors are one of the demographic groups within the focus of community policing. Other groups include students and businesses, specifically in the downtown core, which itself faces new challenges with the pending influx of new residents as various residential construction projects approach completion.
Both Conley and Mittelsteadt predicted that community policing will play a growing role in the future in trying to prevent crimes, a much more effective and economical way of fighting crime. While it is the police’s job to investigate property crimes like thefts from vehicles, it is also important for members of public to realize that they have the power to prevent such crimes in the first place, said Conley.
For local police officer to prevent crimes, they require partners, he said.
That is where Mittelsteadt comes in, forging relationships with local schools and businesses.
“We have identified four or five businesses that could probably use a little bit of assistance or education or support,” said Mittelsteadt, who also used the occasion to promote Project 529, an international bicycle registry program that allows area residents to self-register their bicycles with the help of an online portal and hard-to-remove sticker. This combination allows police to more easily identify stolen bicycles.
“It is another way of engaging the community and prevent crime from happening,” said Mittelsteadt, who promised the program will be an integral part of local crime prevention efforts.
But if Mittelsteadt looks to advance the practice of community policing, he faces a problem not of his making: COVID-19. It complicates outreach to large groups like K-12 classes — Mittelsteadt is currently working with local school administrators to overcome this challenge — and has denied the local detachment one of the most effective outreach forums, namely the Sidney Thursday Market.
“That is where the beauty of the street market was,” said Conley. “We had the opportunity to engage with so many different people. But there will be other ways for us to do that.” Those ways will include an online reporting system, said Conley.
This said, local community policing already some powerful tools. They include the Block Watch program, with 45 individuals spread across the jurisdiction of the local detachment under the leadership of auxiliary constable Ian Collis. With almost 1,000 people involved, the program has seen “incredible participation” in proving itself as a valuable crime prevention and network tool, said Conley.
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