Community Safety and Well-beingBeyond the mandateBy Chief Nishan Duraiappah, Chief of Police, Peel Regional Police In 2019, the Government of Ontario took an unprecedented step to mandate municipal community safety and well-being (CSWB) plans through an update to the Police Services Act. In Peel and other jurisdictions, these plans have been an important tool for identifying and addressing local risk factors and fostering collaboration between municipalities, police and a wide range of community partners.Beyond the mandate and participation in local plans, there is an opportunity to harness CSWB as a conceptual lens to navigate the demands of modern-day policing. As early adopters, Peel Regional Police (PRP) has embraced CSWB as a guiding principle for how we serve our communities, work with our partners and operate as a progressive, innovative and inclusive public safety organization. This includes the development of an organizational strategy to guide how we operationalize CSWB concepts and principles throughout the service.I am sharing our early CSWB trajectory in hopes that it will help to inform other progressive police leaders that are looking to do things differently. As OACP President, my goal is to start a broader conversation about the role of CSWB in Ontario’s evolving police landscape.Public Safety Gone are the days where police operate in a silo. Contemporary events and shifting public expectations have caused us to look inward and egress from service delivery models that have proven to be too insular and reactive. This is not to dismiss the tremendous work happening in services across the province, but to recognize the need for a broader shift in how we serve our communities. As I’ve often said at PRP, if we don’t like the idea of change, we’re going to hate being irrelevant even more.I first put on the uniform 27 years ago, the day-to-day demands placed on our officers and services have grown increasingly varied and complex. We’ve long known that police can’t do it alone. CSWB validates this notion. It’s based on the idea that “public safety” and “community well-being” are mutually inclusive outcomes that require sustained collaboration between police and multi-sector partners. In other words, policing is a non-proprietary function that cannot be carried out in isolation of the many entities that contribute to a safe and healthy community.Nowhere is this more evident than the changing social dimension of the situations we attend, which increasingly have less to do with crime and more to do with mental health, addiction, homelessness and other societal issues that we can’t arrest our way out of. Seldom are we able to get at the root cause of these matters, resulting in sub-optimal community outcomes, habitual requests for assistance and a continuous drain on resources. In a growing number of services, CSWB is becoming a rallying cry for deeper coordination with our health and social care systems to get people the help they need and reduce long-term reliance on police for issues that are fundamentally non-criminal in nature.OUR WAY FORWARD ESTABLISHES THE PROVINCIAL FRAMEWORK AS A CORE FOUNDATION FOR HOW WE CONTINUE TO PIVOT TO A SERVICE DELIVERY MODEL THAT IS MORE PROACTIVE AND FOCUSED ON ROOT CAUSES This idea of non-proprietary policing and multi-sector collaboration is the driver behind a Provincial CSWB framework that will be familiar to police leaders. It is based on the simple but intuitive notion that communities can reduce crime, victimization and other harms by addressing issues further upstream rather than being overly myopic downstream on the symptoms. Specifically, the framework outlines four planning domains (social development, prevention, risk intervention and incident response) to promote a collective impact approach to local CSWB priorities and better align resources within and between sectors. This latter objective cannot be stressed enough as public sector leaders everywhere continue to seek opportunities to work in a more fiscally sustainable manner.Our Way Forward CSWB is not a box that can be checked off from a list of projects. It’s both a philosophical and paradigmatic shift that needs to be translated into action and sustained throughout the fabric of the organization. When I arrived as Chief in 2019, the Police Services Board provided me with a mandate to do just that. We have since taken many concrete steps that have culminated in the release of the PRP’s CSWB strategy – Our Way Forward – in June 2022. The strategy is in addition to Peel’s regional CSWB plan and local Advisory Committee mandated under the Act. It takes the concepts and principles of the broader mandate and transposes them into a roadmap that fits the context and operational environment of policing. This is an important distinction, and one I am often asked to make by community and police leaders.More specifically, Our Way Forward establishes the provincial framework as a core foundation for how we continue to pivot to a service delivery model that is more proactive and focused on root causes. This includes specific actions within each of the four domains of the framework to better serve individuals with complex social needs, more effectively work with our partners and get ahead of the curve on key issues and trends. It further outlines ways in which we will integrate CSWB objectives throughout the organization (e.g., alignment with management action plans in each unit) and operates as a data-driven and culturally responsive service provider, both of which are provincially recognized success factors for CSWB planning.This is not a strategy that will sit on the shelf, nor are we starting from scratch. It is a living document that will continue to evolve and is built on tangible actions that we have been taking over the past two and a half years. This includes a structural realignment in 2020/21 to better align the resources of the organization with the CSWB priorities and pressures of the service. The realignment resulted in Ontario’s first CSWB Services Bureau with a mandate to strengthen how we address mental health, prevent crime and serve priority populations1 that can be more appropriately supported outside of a police response.The Bureau is centred on a new Divisional Mobilization Unit (DMU) that supports the work of five operational divisions and our investigative bureaus. Comprised of 48 Constables, the DMU is focused exclusively on engagement and navigating police-involved individuals to community support and resources. It works closely with communities at a heightened risk of social disorder and follows up on officer referrals to address underlying issues that are likely to generate ongoing, non-criminal interventions. An analysis of the program found that there was a significant decrease in occurrences three months after an initial DMU intervention compared to three months prior among a sample of clients. These early insights suggest that the DMU holds promise as an effective police-led2 model of community mobilization that other services may wish to explore, adapt or replicate.Continuum of Supports In addition to the work of the DMU, the CSWB Bureau plays an active role in Peel’s Situation Table and has worked with community partners to build a robust continuum of supports to better respond to individuals experiencing a mental health or addiction crisis. Like many services in Ontario, this includes a Mobile Crisis Response Team (uniform officer and community-based crisis worker) to respond to high-acuity mental health calls and a Crisis Outreach and Support Team (plain-clothes officer and community-based crisis worker) to follow up post-crisis. Going one step further, we recognize that not all of these calls require an officer, and recently collaborated with several partners to begin deploying community-based clinicians directly to lower acuity mental health calls. As an extension of this pilot, a clinician is situated directly within PRP’s Communications Centre to triage calls and make referrals to community resources where an immediate response is not required. The initiative is in direct collaboration with local agencies that focus on serving Peel’s South Asian and African, Black and Caribbean communities to ensure culturally appropriate responses.CSWB is not just the responsibility of the Bureau bearing its name. Across the organization, the principles of collaborative, non-proprietary approaches to serving our communities are taking root. Nowhere is this more evident than the partnership between PRP’s Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) Unit and the Safe Centre of Peel, which is a collaboration of 16 partner agencies that provide wraparound supports to survivors of domestic violence.In April 2021, the unit became an on-site partner at the Safe Centre, resulting in a highly integrated approach that is increasing access to services and literally saving lives. Building on this success, PRP and the Safe Centre are going a step further and will be launching a pilot to co-respond to verbal IPV calls. The goal of the pilot is to support earlier intervention, put protective factors in place and prevent a more significant incident from occurring in the future.Moving Forward While these are just a few examples of how CSWB is being operationalized at PRP, it illustrates that the concepts and principles have utility for police services beyond mandated participation in local CSWB plans. This is not to suggest that moving in this direction is without its challenges. For instance, heightened collaboration and stronger referral relationships have greatly benefitted the people we serve but have also tested the capacity of our partners (making it imperative that we advocate for the resources they need to come alongside us). Harnessing data on non-criminal calls is another hurdle we are slowly starting to overcome to ensure we have the evidence we need and are able to recalibrate efforts where necessary.Outside of challenges and opportunities afforded by CSWB, there are some who will feel that we are wading too deep into spaces that police should steer clear of. We know, however, that as one of the few service providers operating 365 days a years and 24 hours a day, we will continue to be called upon for matters that eclipse our mandate until there is transformational change within our social support systems. Until this time comes, it is incumbent upon our sector to adapt to the realities of what it means to serve and protect in contemporary policing and achieve a safer community together.1 Priority populations are individuals or communities that are disproportionately at risk of inequitable health, social or economic outcomes.2 McGough et al. (2022) identifies several public health focused approaches to public safety including non-enforcement police-led outreach and alternative, co-response and diversionary models.Nishan Duraiappah is Chief of Police of Peel Regional Police. In 2022-23, he served as President of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.
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