Intelligent policing changing the game for local OPP
By Elizabeth Bate
This spring one of Haliburton County’s OPP officers was hot on the trail of a citizen with sticky fingers. Coming up with a plan to stop the motor vehicle thefts took wits and guile, but the officer on the case didn’t need a footprint or magnifying glass to do it. In fact, he didn’t even leave the office.
When an OPP analyst officer noticed a spike in reported car thefts in Haliburton, he was able to use a computer analysis program to determine when and where the next theft was likely to occur. Officers put a plan in place to increase patrols in the area over three weeks, while also increasing public awareness about the importance of locking vehicles through their “lock it or lose it” campaign, and the thefts stopped cold.
“We tried to break it down to when, where, and how frequently they were occurring, and developed a patrol strategy,” said Opp Sgt. Chad Bark of the Minden Detachment.
At one time police may have been looking for “just the facts, ma’am,” but far from the days of Dragnet and detective sergeant Friday, modern flatfoots are saving the shoe leather and using sophisticated analysis programs and what’s being called intelligent policing techniques to help stop crime, sometimes even before it starts.
Intelligent policing has been slowly adapted by national, regional, and local policing agencies since the RCMP started to use various modern techniques in 2007. Its success encouraged other agencies to add it to their more traditional methods, and in 2010 the OPP started to roll out various intelligent policing models across the province.
Intelligent policing is a catch-all term to describe not only the computer aided analysis used to help stop this spring’s rash of motor vehicle thefts, but alternative techniques officers are arming themselves with to help improve community safety and maximize resources.
“Even though you hear in the news all the time about the drop in crime, calls for service are up,” he said.
“Community units have a significant interest, even more so now because of the billing reform,” he said.
Having received additional training in mental health issues and the root causes of problems they might be asked to respond to, officers are better equipped to help those in need.
“Really, in a nut shell, what that means is a proper analytical approach to service trying to identify the underlying cause of these calls,” said Bark.
Causes may include wider sociological issues like negative parenting, poverty, sub-standard housing, addiction, and illiteracy, to name a few presented in an article written for the Ontario Associations of Chiefs of Police by Hugh C. Russell and Norman E. Taylor. When these issues come into play, Bark says intervention from non-police sources can play a crucial role in stopping the cycle necessitating police involvement.
“That’s where we get into community support,” said Bark.
Bark says in the next six months the OPP, working with other community agencies, will establish what is being called a situation table. A group of persons from various community agencies such as SIRCH and HHHS will meet regularly with police to help each other find resources and refer community members to agencies when underlying problems become evident to officers responding to calls.
“There are a lot of different agencies positioned for this type of thing,” said Bark.
Although Bark estimates the police will bring 80 to 90 per cent of the situations to the table, community agencies can also refer situations for police support or advice if they think it would be warranted.
This kind of project is aimed at increasing support networks for individuals in need, while decreasing police involvement. Training for the program includes getting officers to learn how to recognize signs an individual might be experiencing a social disorder problem and may benefit from assistance or advice from those groups at the situation table.
“They’re trained to deal with a situation. People don’t call the police when they’re having a good day,” Bark said of officers. “They now have another tool in their toolbox, and another viewpoint.”
“We’re looking at mental health right off the bat,” Bark said.
The new program will train officers through e-learning modules and courses offered at the police college. It will focus on giving officers the ability to recognize patterns associated with mental health problems, as well as removing some of the stigma surrounding those who have mental health issues and may require assistance.
Bark calls the program a “proactive approach to try to ensure they get whatever support or help they need to stop an escalating trend.”
The goal of the program is to eventually ensure all officers have an ability to identify and analyze patterns of behavior in those with frequent police interactions and are able to offer support.
Other programs of this kind have seen dedicated officers with advanced mental health training being assigned to detachments or shifts where there is the capacity to warrant the expense. Bark says the number of calls in the Haliburton County area aren’t high enough for such a response.
Bark says he hopes all the new initiatives under the heading of intelligent policing bring a community focus and solution to individuals in need, while reducing unnecessary calls for service.
“Policing is expensive and we don’t want more policing. This whole model is designed to accommodate that.”
Bark says these new initiatives being slowly rolled out over the next year in Haliburton County are essential to helping reduce costs to taxpayers and use officers’ hours more efficiently.
Calls in Haliburton County topped 8,000 in 2014, many of those were non-essential or non-police matters, what is referred to as a social disorder call, says Bark. He hopes the introduction of the new techniques, as well as working in cooperation with community partners will help the community “police itself,” reducing the number of calls.
In the past, if an officer were responding to repeated incidents involving a particular individual their focus would have been clearing the immediate situation and ensuring the immediate safety of those involved, says Bark. Now, in addition to ensuring immediate safety, they look at possible causes of situations and what community agencies may help individuals to alleviate long-term problems.
Those community interests will be coming to the table, both figuratively and literally, in the next few months to help establish a place officers and other community workers can go to help each other provide support to those in need.
In addition to the situation table, all officers will be taking more training in a pilot program that will focus on mental health.
“In a place like Toronto they have the volume of calls to justify that response,” he said.