Frank Leonard: In Saanich, no call is too small

Years ago, community policing meant opening neighbourhood police stations – and this was done by the City of Victoria.

Community policing is a concept that you may often hear myself and others speak of – but just what exactly is it?

Years ago, community policing meant opening neighbourhood police stations – and this was done by the City of Victoria.  They staffed them mostly with volunteers and they have all since closed.  Saanich police started literally placing tables at the entrance to shopping malls with staff at hand to interact with citizens – but when our uniformed officers started referring to themselves as ‘Wal-Mart greeters,’ it was time to move on.

Today it is a key policy within Saanich police’s strategic plan – so we better know what it is. Our mission is to provide quality service by working with the community to keep Saanich safe.

Yet I think you’d be hard-pressed to define it by anything physical. Instead I see it as an attitude. Our officers need to interact more with the “good guys” than the “bad guys.” Community members are our partners in reducing crime and we need to work with them. Our staff needs to reach out through organized programs like Block Watch but also need to reach out to everyday citizens every day. Officers need to be approachable but also need to be outgoing.

There are some key measures of a police department’s commitment to community policing. You’ll find our uniformed officers in all Saanich schools. This has a great payback, but usually in the long term.

Students in the early grades are learning they can interact with the police and in senior grades, the two-way communication is valuable but hopefully never needed in terms of law enforcement.

Another is the commitment to crime prevention programs. Block Watch programs for houses, multi-family dwellings and businesses are labour intensive yet provide thousands eyes and ears for our department. These programs should not be taken for granted though. When budgets are tight, these programs are the first to be considered for cuts – and some municipal police departments have cut back on school liaison for example.

Community policing also has to be backed up by operational policies. None are as significant as our “no call too small” theme. This is mocked by other departments, but we believe that you can’t tell community members that they are your partners, but then simply take names and numbers over the phone.

Examples are false alarms, noisy house parties and break and enters. We respond to these types of calls while other departments don’t. Admittedly, we don’t always respond right away because there may be higher priority calls but we do believe that we can’t ask you to be our partner in crime and then not have the time to attend to your home when trouble occurs.

Community policing does not mean everything is dealt with locally though. There are several support and specialized services that are integrated with other municipal departments and the RCMP, such as dispatch, the emergency response team and detective units. These are effective and valuable so I’m proud to say Saanich is now a member of all integrated units.

All of this comes at a price. It would indeed be cheaper to eliminate our “no call too small” policy. And like some of our neighbours, we could reduce costs from withdrawing from some of the integrated police units. Yet we believe that public safety is a priority and that we can keep Saanich safe by providing the best of both worlds: excellent quality community policing backed up by integrated regional units for specialized and support services.

So what do you think? Are you willing to pay for the cost of this community policing model? Would you be willing to give up our “no call too small” policy?  Do you support paying more to join integrated units within the region?

We’d welcome your feedback.  Comment on the Saanich News website or on Twitter @frank_leonard with the hashtag #mayorsview.

Frank Leonard is the mayor of Saanich.