Vol. 79, No. 4Panel discussion

Male police officer next to three young people with colourful van in background.

Rural vs. urban policing: What outreach approaches work best?

Cst. Chuck Marjara of the Diversity and Community Engagement unit in Surrey, B.C., meets with newcomer and refugee youth to talk about personal safety and when and how to contact police if they need to. Credit: B.C. RCMP

Whether an officer's beat is in a remote, rural landscape or a densely populated downtown core, connecting with members of the community is essential.But what approaches work best when residents are spread out over many miles or, alternately, condensed in a small area with diverse needs? We asked our panellists which tools and methods help them build relationships with their communities wherever they may be.

The panellists

  • Cst. Chuck Marjara, Diversity and Community Engagement, Surrey, B.C., RCMP
  • A/Commr. Curtis Zablocki, commanding officer of F Division, Regina, Sask., RCMP
  • Sherry Bray, Public Affairs Branch, Kentucky State Police
  • S/Sgt. Jeffrey Duggan, Ontario Provincial Police, Kenora detachment

Cst. Chuck Marjara

Policing at its core is about earning public trust, and this transcends the rural or urban divide. In smaller areas, community policing may mean the community in its entirety. In a city like Surrey, where more than 50 per cent of our population is from a visible minority, we believe the best approach is to get out and engage with members of the community one on one. This includes learning about their culture and attending associated spaces and events.

An example of this is our current outreach to the Muslim community. The first step was to identify local leaders within the community and meet with them to discuss safety concerns and opportunities to work together with the overall goal of public safety. Two strong recommendations came from this meeting: educate officers about the community and positively engage with the community by attending events and presentations.

Internal education: In addition to offering diversity workshops to staff, the Diversity Unit is in the process of creating a video that showcases members from the Muslim community talking about topics such as what to do when entering a mosque, the purpose of the hijab and how to engage with the community as a whole. The unit also hosted an Iftar event during the month of Ramadan that brought together more than 100 members of the Muslim community and local police officers to learn about one another over a delicious meal.

Positive engagement: After the shooting at the Canadian mosque earlier this year, the Surrey RCMP Diversity Unit took the opportunity to visit local Islamic centres. The leaders of the mosque were happy and appreciative that officers took the time to show their support and listen to their concerns. Officers also regularly attend the local mosques on Fridays when it's known to be most busy to talk to the community about the importance of reporting crime and how to do so. They also attend sporting events with the youth and do special presentations on topics such as gangs, drugs and bullying.

One factor used to measure impact is whether we receive proactive calls. This is both in the case of reporting instances of concerns and also invitations to community celebrations. When uniformed police are welcomed into traditional celebrations and those community members are fully engaged, receptive and welcoming, that's how we know we made some inroads. That is the trust piece that leads to an increased comfort in calling police, both in emergency situations but also non-emergency reporting situations.

A/Commr. Curtis Zablocki

While everyone can agree that effective and efficient policing is built on a foundation of community engagement, building those relationships can take many forms and can look somewhat different in a rural setting than in a city.

Policing vast, sparsely populated, rural areas like we have in Saskatchewan requires a special kind of community involvement. Because patrols can't be in all places at all times, we are more reliant on our citizens to be the "eyes and ears" of police.

Programs like Rural Crime Watch or Citizens on Patrol are a natural extension of the community spirit that has always existed in rural areas; namely neighbours looking out for neighbours. Those programs emphasize the safety of the volunteers while still providing police with valuable information.

While visibility is an inherent challenge in rural policing, it's also is also a key outreach tool in rural communities. To show up periodically at the coffee shop, or the local rink during a hockey game is a small investment that can pay big dividends. Completing paperwork on our mobile workstations in police vehicles near a busy traffic area, in a school zone or in a problematic area of the community, is another effective and efficient way of reminding people that we are out there.

Regardless of whether the environment is urban or rural, detachment commanders and personnel are focusing their efforts on building relationships to try and address root causes of crime such as mental health issues, substance abuse and poverty. Exploring partnerships leads to the programs and initiatives that can make a difference.

We encourage our communities to put together Community Safety Committees, which are diverse groups of invested, committed partners who can generate new ideas, customize existing ones and integrate them into a strategy to fit their local needs. Together, they can develop a multi-faceted approach to community safety in partnership with the police and other agencies.

To be successful in creating and maintaining safe communities, communities must have both trust and confidence in the police. And that applies to both urban and rural policing alike.

Sherry Bray

Since its humble transformation from a highway patrol in 1948, the Kentucky State Police (KSP) has always placed a high value on community policing. Being a rural-based police agency that many citizens rely on, local involvement and interaction became a cornerstone of our mission. Nothing can ever replace the opportunity to talk with citizens in person, but we've been able to use social media networking to engage community members online.

We use different social media platforms to reach a more diverse group of people. We do this in the way we post information, updates, photographs and video to the various social media sites.

For instance, with Facebook, a large number of our followers are over 40. We combine a mixture of news information along with some feel-good stories in those posts. Twitter is where we are reaching a younger crowd of people and our messaging is more on-point and often splashed with trending terminology and memes, which are commonly used on this platform.

Instagram is one of our fastest growing social media sites and we attribute that to the visual message followers are seeing on that page. We strategically use Instagram to show the public a side of our agency they don't often see on the nightly news or in public. This could include a trooper stopping by a child's lemonade stand, visiting a sick child in the hospital or giving blood at a community blood drive. We use limited text on these posts and let the photograph speak for itself.

Facebook tends to be one of our most popular social media sites and we receive a lot of likes, shares and private messages through this platform. We allow our followers to voice their opinions about what we post as long as it isn't derogatory or offensive to others. Many times when someone disagrees with us we have the opportunity to connect with them (via Facebook) and we can resolve a concern they had. Sometimes we have to agree to disagree, but either way we are opening a line of communication that we wouldn't have had without social media.

Our driving purpose behind the use of social media is to disseminate important information to our citizens. We focus heavily on social media to be that outstretched hand when we can't do so in person.

S/Sgt. Jeffrey Duggan

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) is one of North America's largest deployed police services with more than 6,200 uniformed officers and 160 detachments and satellite locations. Many OPP officers are posted in small towns or communities.

Policing in a small town, village or Indigenous community requires a genuine partnership with the people living there. A police officer on duty may be the only officer working in the area with the closest backup being hours away. When working in a small community, the relationships you build are instrumental to your success and could enhance overall officer safety.

My first posting as an OPP officer was in a small Indigenous community. I spent a lot of time both on duty and off duty attending community events. Building relationships with the community made it easier to attend calls. Community members were able to put a face to a name and see past the uniform to work together towards a resolution.

In small communities, calls often come to officers in unconventional ways such as while off duty at the local coffee shop or by a knock on the door at their home at any hour of the day or night. These types of calls often begin with a request for assistance and end with a successful resolution while sharing a cup coffee at your kitchen table. Sometimes what's being reported isn't a crime at all but when the person leaves, they feel better just having spoken to someone.

Often in large city centres, police officers come and go to work without their own neighbours knowing what they do on a daily basis. When you work in a small community, you can't escape the fact that everyone knows what you do for a living. The presence of the cruiser in your driveway is an indicator of your schedule, as is arriving at your child's school or sporting event in uniform.

If you spend the extra time and become part of every facet of the community, you will see the benefits when you attend calls for service. It's also a comfort to know that when it comes to your safety, the community will have your back as you have theirs.

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