Vol. 78, No. 1Panel discussion

Man standing outside door of car.

How can the public play a greater role in supporting operations?

Saterll Singh is one of three private security officers who patrol Oakland's Rockridge neighbourhood during peak crime hours. Credit: Safer Rockridge

The panellists

  • Insp. Suki Manj, officer in charge, Lloydminster detachment, Alberta, RCMP
  • Tom Stirling, digital communications manager, North Yorkshire Police, United Kingdom
  • David Lorrie, Safer Rockridge, Oakland, California
  • S/Sgt. Michael Haffner, executive officer, Waterloo Regional Police Service and Christiane Sadeler, executive director, Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council
  • Sgt. Hakim Bellal, National Security Community Outreach Coordinator, Quebec, RCMP

Insp. Suki Manj

As a police organization, it is essential to understand your role in the community and what its expectations are of you. In business terms, the public is the client and businesses should be trying to set goals based on what the clients want.

Sir Robert Peel is considered by many to be the founder of modern day policing philosophy with the creation of his nine principles of policing in the 1800s, based on the notion that the police are the public and the public are the police.

Following these principles will lead to success. The key is to engage the public in a meaningful way, provide them timely information, listen to their concerns and arm them with tools to assist in keeping our communities safe.

This builds immediate trust with the members of the public and they become our eyes and ears. This relationship will have a constructive impact on our operation because the public is more willing to support us if they are involved in meeting our goals. Having a positive connection with the public also helps motivate our employees.

This takes no more resources, no special tools and no extra funding. But the benefits to operations are invaluable.

Lloydminster detachment has implemented several programs aimed at getting the public involved in our operations. We have conducted surveys to solicit public feedback, followed up with open meetings to discuss results and the actions we proposed to implement as a result of the surveys.

We have proactively built a strong relationship with local media outlets and developed communication strategies aimed at reminding the public that they are an important part of public safety and what they can do to assist us.

The volunteer activities our employees take part in on a day-to-day basis are highlighted in newspaper articles and speaking events to show the amazing contributions they make to our community. We do the same when members of the public go out of their way to assist us in our daily routine.

We established the Lloydminster RCMP Recognition Ceremony, where we honour community partners, members of the public and our staff for what they do that is above and beyond expectations.

All of these efforts have led to an amazing positive turnaround in public perception of our detachment.

Many may think this is nothing new. But we have to make sure that we have a strategy to communicate with our "customers" on a larger scale so we will benefit from a public that is motivated to be involved in meeting our common goals.

Tom Stirling

Like many police forces around the world, North Yorkshire Police uses social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, to engage with our community, publicize crime prevention advice, warn people of road closures and highlight successful prosecutions.

But increasingly, we are using these channels to seek citizens' help in criminal and missing person investigations.

Members of the public have always acted as the eyes and ears of the police. Using social media, we can reach many thousands of people within minutes — alerting them to wanted criminals in their area and showing them vulnerable missing people to watch for.

For example, we operate a Caught on Camera program, whereby closed-circuit television (CCTV) images of suspects and witnesses involved in crimes are published proactively on the force website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

Caught on Camera is popular with the public and well-used by our officers. Internally, an easy-to-use flowchart is provided to help staff decide when to release a CCTV image — taking account of privacy considerations, the likelihood of identification and the impact on victims.

The benefits to the criminal justice system are obvious. Residents are empowered to play an active role in fighting crime in their neighbourhoods. At the same time, however, the system is not a free-for-all. CCTV images are only published where there is a genuine policing purpose, and are removed after a set period of time.

Caught on Camera is just one way in which we encourage the public to support police investigations. When it comes to high-risk missing people, the public's help can be crucial. Within minutes we can publicize a photo of a missing person, even targeting it to users in a particular area.

For example, a vulnerable young girl went missing last November from a local school. Dozens of police units, including a police helicopter, searched the area for hours without success. We only found her alive and well when a member of the public recognized her from our Facebook appeal and called us. She had used public transport to travel a considerable distance from her original location.

In essence, social media gives us a fantastic opportunity to gain the public's support in operational policing. North Yorkshire Police has a network of around 90 local Twitter accounts and our main force Facebook page has more than 50,000 likes.

By harnessing that audience, which is ready and willing to support its local police force, we can work together to arrest wanted criminals and keep vulnerable missing people safe.

David Lorrie

Sometimes a neighbourhood can play a greater role in its own public safety by supplementing police operations with resources of its own.

Two years ago, I met with a group of concerned neighbours in a small upstairs flat across the street, located in arguably one of the most desirable neighbourhoods of the San Francisco Bay Area — Rockridge, in Oakland, California.

A few days earlier, the architects working in the downstairs unit had been robbed at gunpoint by intruders. A few weeks before that, the neighbour a few houses down had been robbed by three armed men on my corner. Another neighbour on the same block was robbed walking home from a grocery store. And a group of about 20 people were held up at gunpoint while waiting for carpool rides six blocks away.

The City of Oakland was in crisis. Dramatic budget problems forced an unprecedented reduction in the number of police officers. The department closed its traffic division, stopped non-essential services and was operating on a triage basis.

We felt we had to do something. We decided to hire a private security company to patrol the neighbourhood, but it seemed cost-prohibitive. We would need at least 250 residences out of the 4,000 in the neighbourhood to contribute $20 monthly to have an unarmed, private security patrol in a marked vehicle. But a neighbour suggested we try one of the latest trends in social media to help us — crowdsourcing.

Within 48 hours, we hit our goal, eventually reaching more than 650 contributing residences.

The goal of the patrols is to provide eyes-and-ears-only private security patrols during peak crime hours and to serve as a visual deterrent for criminals. In addition, the patrols can help the Oakland Police Department (OPD) with documentation of observations. A statistical analysis performed using public data suggests the patrols may be contributing to a reduction in crime in the area and we have had several instances of the patrols assisting residents by interrupting crimes in progress.

Although we provide services to anyone in the neighbourhood regardless of whether they are a contributor to our organization, we continue to have more than 500 contributing members. We maintain a website and a monthly newsletter with updates on the patrols and occasional tips on general crime reduction strategies.

It's unclear how long we will operate the patrols. OPD staffing has returned to more normal levels, and crime in Oakland has generally decreased in the years since the patrols began. Living in such a big city, it sometimes feels difficult to contribute in a meaningful way. But by starting with a group of neighbours and focusing on impacting our immediate community, we believe we have managed to make a difference.

S/Sgt. Michael Haffner and Christiane Sadeler

Public safety and security are the cornerstones of quality of life in municipalities. With a population close to 600,000, Waterloo Region is one of the safest communities in the country and it is committed to keeping that status. This is not a vague desire but a way of operationalizing policing alongside other community, health and social services.

Waterloo Region has a strong history of collaboration. It is from within this culture that Canada's first comprehensive and integrated crime prevention council was established in 1994.

Then-Waterloo Regional Police Service Chief of Police Larry Gravill was tasked with bringing the vision of a community approach to the prevention of crime into reality. He formed a multi-disciplinary coalition of local partners that agreed to research and address the root causes of crime together. This partnership is now known as the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council (WRCPC).

Gravill recognized that in order to be successful, police needed to share leadership and be an equal voice and partner in addressing the complex problem of crime. This meant acknowledging that we cannot enforce our way out of social challenges such as poverty, parenting issues, substance use or social disorder.

The council was designed to bring shared expertise and commitment to support grass roots initiatives, affect policy change, educate the public, influence resource allocations and engage the community in a broad based prevention agenda.

This concept remains strongly supported and the WRCPC is a part of the fibre of local government and community engagement. It encourages the public to take an active role in fostering safety by raising public awareness, sharing ideas to prevent crime, engaging neighbourhoods and youth, and hosting events to celebrate successes or alert one another to community issues.

In addition to monthly dialogues and a shared strategic plan, relationships are the key to this success. Trust among partners creates a collective vision of a safe and promising future for everyone in our community.

While understanding the root causes of crime cannot be accomplished overnight, public trust and engagement combined with community policing are crucial to ensuring safety. Community members must feel comfortable and confident in calling the police and its partners to respond to their needs.

But the role of police cannot be underestimated. Police are not only vital partners. They lend credibility and complement community capacity for tasks that often go beyond policing to address the roots of the issue. What 20 years ago may have been a controversial idea has become a vital role in enhancing police operations for greater community safety.

Sgt. Hakim Bellal

Community outreach is a comprehensive effort aimed at engaging communities to protect Canada's national security.

Law enforcement and intelligence officials have a clear role to play in the area of prevention and intervention, but the RCMP should continue to focus on awareness and education.

The communities we serve are front and center in this approach and we need greater contributions from them as well as relevant agencies, associations and the private sector.

For instance, periods of tension and conflict usually fuel a rise of xenophobia, racism and hatred towards specific groups within the community. Civil agencies as well as religious and cultural leaders, movements and associations can be catalysts for positive change in quelling intolerance, which feeds the warped terrorist narrative.

Our awareness and outreach efforts are geared towards enhancing and building alternative initiatives. Communities and civil society actors have to do more to challenge and deconstruct the propaganda of terrorist and extremist groups on both social media and in their literature. It is vital that both the message and messenger come from within the community itself.

Various non-law enforcement agencies can also strive to be more present and active in initiatives aimed at individuals radicalizing to violence. This role is not exclusive to community stakeholders. Mentors and multi-faith leaders can positively influence those who have been radicalized or are on the path to becoming radicalized to violence. People of influence can help at-risk individuals modify their attitudes and beliefs to be more mainstream and in keeping with Canadian values and ethics

Members of these community-based associations should be encouraged to actively engage in advisory committees set up by communities in partnership with police. Regular meetings ensure they have a voice in community-based action plans. These types of partnerships will ultimately lead to greater involvement in finding appropriate solutions.

Parents, loved ones, teachers and other stakeholders are often the ones best able to spot early indicators of radicalism to violence. Understanding and recognizing these signs early is the best way to prevent radicalization.

Terrorists and extremists use traditional and social media to spread their violent propaganda. But our partners in the news media also have a social responsibility to combat these issues. They should be encouraged to minimize violent propaganda aimed at recruiting Canadian youth and provide an opportunity to highlight to a broader audience the stories of those affected by terrorism. The focus should be on identifying criminal behaviours and recognizing indicators as opposed to freedoms protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, such as religion.

National security is a shared responsibility. It is no longer exclusively the responsibility of the government, the RCMP or intelligence agencies. It calls for co-operation by all Canadians and requires a strong public-private partnership.

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