Vol. 80, No. 4Panel discussion

In a grassy area, two male RCMP officers talk to a man wearing a hoodie and holding a soccer ball while standing next to a shopping cart full of personal items.

How do you measure successful outreach?

The Surrey Outreach Team measures the number of overdoses, violent crimes and property crimes so that they can adjust their outreach to better suit the needs of their clients. Credit: Surrey RCMP

When it comes to vulnerable or high-risk individuals, like street workers, runaways or victims of domestic violence, tailored outreach is often the only way to get them needed support. But offering a service is only the first step. We asked four RCMP officers how they know their outreach is actually working — and the best way to measure a program's impact.

The panellists

  • Sgt. Trevor Dinwoodie, Non-commissioned officer in charge of the Surrey Outreach Team, Surrey, B.C.
  • Cst. Stephanie Leduc, Inuvik detachment, Nunavut
  • Cpl. Derek Cosenzo, RCMP Yellowknife detachment, Northwest Territories
  • Insp. Pamela Robinson, officer in command, RCMP St. Albert detachment, Alta.

Sgt. Trevor Dinwoodie

The main goal of the Surrey Outreach Team is to assist the most vulnerable people battling extreme addiction and mental illness in one of the lowest socioeconomic areas of the Lower Mainland Region in British Columbia. The team was created during an unprecedented time of violence, overdose deaths, and inclement weather typically unseen on the West Coast.

The team consists of 17 constables, one corporal and a sergeant. One constable position works solely as a mental-health liaison, while the remaining work in a community policing capacity following a 24/7 schedule. We also have four bylaw-enforcement officers attached to the team during the dayshifts.

I'm very fortunate to work in Surrey. The city is very progressive and has supported this team throughout. Furthermore, Surrey detachment is the largest RCMP detachment in Canada. This affords me the luxury of having numerous support services to lean on.

When the team was created, we immediately saw the need to produce measurable data that our analytical team could quickly access and report on. We chose measurables that we felt could extract and compare both quantitative data and qualitative analysis, like overdoses, violent crime and property crime, to name a few. We could then compare them, over the course of the year, and see what was trending up or down to determine success. We currently produce a monthly report and a large yearly assessment.

As the team became established in the area, we then felt it was a good time to have an independent expert, recommended by the local health authority, conduct a review of the team. The consultant came in and interviewed staff, partner agencies and our clients, and provided a detailed report highlighting our successes and areas of improvement. We were pleased that he was very complimentary of our approach. We knew at that time we were having success.

Finally, we implemented a daily briefing with all our local partner agencies, including everyone from shelter staff, faith-based outreach groups and harm reduction workers. These briefings are held Monday through Friday and provide the group the time and place to discuss what is and isn't working.

By implementing this approach, we're able to adjust our outreach to better suit our clients' needs.

For proof that this approach works, you need to look no further than 135A Street in Surrey, B.C.

We had about 160 individuals living in tents on this street. By establishing trust and respect with this community, and continuously adjusting our practices, we were able to successfully move all these individuals into supportive housing and shelters.

Cst. Stephanie Leduc

Throughout my career, I've been involved in community outreach initiatives that focus mainly on youth.

I've come to realize that policing activities and priorities are driven by statistics. If there's a spike in reporting of a certain type of crime, then funding and resources are fuelled in that direction. When the reporting declines after the implementation of these new resources, this may be seen as a measure of success.

But how do we measure community outreach? How do we show that community outreach is a valuable use of police resources?

I believe successful outreach is not something that can be easily measured using statistics; the measure of success is how the group's behaviour toward the police changes and develops into positive relationships.

This past year, Cst. Jenna Moore and I taught a class every week in the high school. Prior to our involvement in the school, we rarely had students speak to us during shift. Once the school year ended, we found that many of the students were now waving to us, inviting us to play sports and coming to us with information about crime.

One student told me that she never liked the police before but she now thinks the police are pretty cool. I see it as a success, but one that is pretty difficult to capture through quantitative statistics.

What I can tell you though is that I've seen its positive effects on a small scale.

I developed the Mini Mountie Program while at my first detachment in Drayton Valley, Alta., and it's now being implemented in schools throughout the Northwest Territories.

The program is run in the local elementary school during the school year. Every month, a topic is selected and a space in the school is used to provide information to the students and parents about the topic. RCMP officers attend classrooms to speak about the topic and hand out colouring sheets related to it. At the end of each month, a Mini Mountie is selected based on reviews from the teachers and completion of the colouring sheet.

When the program is started in a new school, very few students approach me when in uniform — they shy away. Some staff are hesitant to have a uniformed officer in the school out of concerns for those students whose families have had previous involvement with the police.

However, after about a month, the dynamic is completely different. Students are excited to see police officers walk into the school. I can't count how many hugs and high-fives I've received since implementing this program. There are days when the students won't let me leave because they want me to read them stories or join them in class. They're excited to have us in the school. This simple program develops positive feelings toward police. Our behaviour toward people has a lot to do with our feelings towards them.

It's easy to measure certain crimes. But it's much more difficult to measure the quality of one's relationships toward police.

I know community outreach is effective, but it's difficult to truly capture its impact on a community. I guess I could start counting how many kids excitedly point to me in the grocery store on my days off, smile and wave while telling their parents, "She's the police officer who came to my class!"

Cpl. Derek Cosenzo

Beginning in the summer of 2017, the RCMP Yellowknife detachment partnered with the Integrated Case Management (ICM) pilot program through the Government of Northwest Territories Department of Justice.

The ICM Program, known as Pathfinders, supports at-risk people in Yellowknife by getting them the services they require like housing, income support and health services.

The role of the Yellowknife RCMP is to help identify and refer at-risk individuals by using a statistical and consultative process.

With a focus on societal-disorder type offences, like causing a disturbance, an officer identifies individuals based on the number of contacts they've had with police.

For example, the police were called several times to deal with one individual because he was often found heavily intoxicated and unconscious in public places. This person's behaviour was associated with homelessness and an alcohol or substance use issue.

He was an ideal candidate for referral. He was connected with the ICM Program and assigned a Pathfinder, who helps people access the services they require to ensure their basic needs are met.

The RCMP then continues to act as a liaison for this person. The program manager in Yellowknife recognizes the challenges that each individual faces when attempting to deal with personal issues and service navigation.

Because program participants are identified individually and using a statistical approach, the RCMP can monitor the program's success statistically.

For the previous example, during a six-month period from December 2016 to May 2017, this program participant had 67 police contacts. As a result of the nature of these contacts, the individual was referred to the program.

The detachment continued to monitor the number of police contacts that this person had through reporting periods. Since referral to the program, there has been a statistical drop in the number of police contacts. From April 1 to June 30, 2017, there were 30 police contacts. From July 1 to Sept. 30, 2017, there were 23 police contacts. From Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2017, there were 19 police contacts. And from Jan. 1 to Mar. 31, 2018, there were only seven police contacts.

There was a 63 per cent decrease from the 3rd to 4th quarter reporting period. It was during this time that the participant was able to access the Yellowknife Housing First program and obtained his own apartment. Once the basic needs of shelter, food and safety of the participant were met, there was a substantial decrease in police contact.

Using this methodology, police can measure and show the success from a calls-for-police-service perspective and how programs such as Housing First and the ICM program can help.

Insp. Pamela Robinson

Every moment in policing presents a teachable moment, where an officer can educate the public on the parameters of the law, the limitations and expectations of completing their duties, and the responsibility of residents in assisting the police maintain community safety.

This open dialogue is the core of community outreach. It's from these relationships with our communities that we truly understand the culture, diversity and needs of our clients.

Recognizing that crime statistics only measure a small part of our policing effort, our success in community outreach is measured in our ability to adapt and respond to the communities' needs.

In 2017, the City of St. Albert completed a community satisfaction survey in which 92 per cent of respondents rated their perception of St. Albert as a safe place to live. In addition, 89 per cent of respondents stated that police met their expectations in service delivery. Respondents who felt that policing didn't meet their expectations requested an increase in police visibility, patrols and enforcement.

These positive results are attributed to a long-term plan focused on community engagement at all levels, a communication strategy focused on education, enforcement, and a commitment to working collaboratively with our citizens and partners to understand each other's needs.

We've identified innovative ways to adapt our response to meet the needs of our citizens by implementing a golf cart patrol on our 85-km trail system. Using a golf cart doesn't require specialized training for police. It provides an opportunity for increased visibility and citizen engagement, and it acts as a deterrent for crimes in these secluded locations.

This tool has become invaluable in our ability to connect with the community and provides an opportunity for our diverse population to both meet the police outside of a call for service and report concerns or suspicious behaviours. Residents now report feeling safer when using the trail system and these collaborative efforts have led to a 33 per cent decrease in mischief-related offences during the summer months.

We've also empowered our citizens with knowledge by implementing a crime map that reports daily trends in property crimes partnered with a communication strategy listing of how and why to report suspicious behaviours. The information is then used to track criminal behaviours and identify offenders.

We've worked with our partners, like the City of St. Albert Strategy and Mobilization Group, which includes representatives from the municipality, health services, schools, ministerial groups, family services and community supports. These partners support individuals in crisis and help to make sure they're served through a co-ordinated, facilitated and supported community response.

The collaboration and support of partnering agencies have influenced a five per cent increase in reported domestic violence incidents (from 607 in 2016-2017 to 638 in 2017-2018) and 33 per cent increase in reports of sexual assault offences (nine reported in 2016-2017 to 12 reported in 2017-2018).

Communication strategies surrounding public safety awareness and support have empowered victims to come forward and report these serious crimes types.

If we take the time to work collaboratively and explain the why, community outreach becomes human nature and we're able to collectively address emerging issues before they become trends.

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