Community Safety and Wellbeing: Working Together Across Ontario By Larissa Pereira, Communications Coordinator, Ontario Association of Chiefs of PoliceCommunity Safety and Well Being (CSWB) plan. (Courtesy CSWBWindsorEssex.ca) As Ontario police services seek solutions to emerging community issues, non-traditional police approaches that create opportunities to strengthen community relationships are becoming vital to community safety and well-being. Often, it is during difficult and traumatic situations that people interact with police, which can negatively impact perspectives of law enforcement. In a greater effort to inspire positive community interactions, police services have actively developed community safety and well-being initiatives that were co-designed and co-lead alongside various community partners.Creating Safe Spaces According to Sergeant Avery Bassett, a Community Safety Services member with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), offering standardized programs that are evidence-based though the combined use of both research and data leads to better police-community relations. High quality programing is critical for police and community success, especially where young people are involved. The OPP’s KIDS (Knowledge, Issues, Decisions, Supports) program was developed to replace the long-existing Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. Launched in 2013 and operating in various jurisdictions across the province, KIDS aims to target grades 6 and 7. It was developed in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, alongside community policing officers, educators, and other community partners. The program is broken down into four components:1. Youth and the Law2. Peer-to-Peer Relationships3. Online and Social-Media4. Drug, Alcohol, and Vaping Awareness,Through in-person presentations, the sessions are facilitated through games, DVDs, and discussions with a uniform officer. The KIDS program addresses issues related to the use of internet and technology, using language the participants can relate to. The online safety component serves as a bridge between the online and mental health components to address cyberbullying, sextortion/exploitation, child luring, and human trafficking. Police and educators understand that bringing awareness in an age-appropriate way is critical for establishing safe spaces, reducing social stigma, and encouraging compassion.Providing Interactive Supports In many community-led initiatives targeting youth, the desired outcome is to provide them with increased opportunities and mentorship as they make the often-difficult transition from a young person to adulthood. To assist in their development and inspire economic growth to youth in Toronto, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) partnered with Good Guides and the community to establish the Community Connect program, which was made possible under the Community Safety and Policing (CSP) Grant. Through this program, participants aged 15-25 received training on First Aid/CPR, Babysitting, and Stay Safe Training. To further assist young people in being safe and active in their communities, the service partnered with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to offer presentations on transit safety. Along with the opportunity to ask questions and engage in discussions, participants also benefitted from receiving a pre-loaded Presto card to better equip them as they commute in the City of Toronto.Superintendent LeeAnn Papizewski, a member of TPS’s Community Partnerships and Engagement Unit, believes that asking the right questions is just as important as trying to find answers. “What does the community want? It’s not just knowing what we want to say, but asking the community what they need”, said Papizewski. This is why in the second phase of the Community Connect Program, participating youth can select what skills they are interested in acquiring based on where they require assistance. From how to obtain essential documents and services, to resume writing, preparing for a job interview or applying for post-secondary education, they are given the chance to connect with a neighbourhood community officer to assist with these processes. Involving young people in its development was also a consideration, and members of the Chief’s Youth Advisory Committee were recruited to create marketing posters for the program. By catering to the direct needs of youth in the community, the Community Connect Program delivers services in a way that is engaging and attractive to youth, ensuring a strong and positive support through the efforts of TPS and their community partners.Innovative Crime Prevention Preventing crime within the community remains a top priority for all police services. That’s why as part of the Regional Community Safety and Well-Being Plan, the Town of Essex, in partnership with Windsor Police Services (WPS), the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), Crime Stoppers, and Youth Diversion staff invited residents and business owners to a guided neighbourhood walk to learn how to prevent opportunities for crime. The Harrow “Safety and Crime Prevention Walk” took place in August 2022 and provided an opportunity for people to see their neighbourhoods through a crime prevention and safety lens, as well as acquiring personal safety tips. After walking the approximate two kilometre route, community members engaged in a discussion with Police (both Windsor and OPP), Crime Stoppers and Youth diversion staff on concerns specific to their neighbourhoods. In addition to the Harrow “Safety and Crime Prevention Walk”, other safety walks were hosted throughout the city of Windsor and in nearby municipalities, such as the towns of Essex, Tecumseh, and Leamington, with more being planned to take place in 2023.Building on the Harrow Safety and Crime Prevention Walk, the subsequent Substance Supports in Neighbourhoods Accessed through Police Partnerships (SSNAPP) initiative sponsored a workshop on March 24, 2023, where community members were taught to apply principles of “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design” (CPTED) to spaces involving vulnerable populations. The workshop, led by Barry Horrobin, Director of Planning and Physical Resources for Windsor PS, included photos and case examples to illustrate how CPTED can improve the safety and security of community spaces. CPTED strategies are ideal for any physical environment, be it residential, commercial, institutional, or recreational, and is a creative upstream initiative for preventing crime while strengthening police/community relationships and promoting safe and enjoyable spaces for the community. The workshop received positive feedback, and individuals from some of the organizations in attendance have since reached out to explore further ways to engage and follow up with the material presented at the workshop.Lessons in Inclusivity Community centred strategies can sometimes arise from unfortunate incidences, which can offer valuable opportunities for updating and reviewing current practices. After a well-publicized incident involving an autistic community member, Peel Regional Police (PRP) undertook a review of how they identify and engage with people with autism. PRP reached out into the community to consult with subject matter experts were consulted to co-design a solution that could more constructively engage with people with autism and their families. Their collaborations were productive and insightful, and now PRP offers and delivers training to other front-line workers.Inspector Natalie Hiltz, a member of PRP’s Community Safety & Well-Being Services Bureau, emphasized that “community relationships really matter”, and through “teachable moments,” there is an opportunity to learn, improve, and evolve. Aligning resources to collaboratively find solutions, especially where priority populations are concerned, is an integral part of efficient community safety programs. As Inspector Hiltz affirmed, “we are your police service; its not just the initiative that matters, but the collaborative and consultive path that was taken to solution community issues”. Communities want police services to be deliberate, thoughtful, transparent, and accountable. Through collaborating with experts and community stakeholders, police are better equipped to deliver shared programs that tackle issues that are shared responsibilities and start to rebuild trust in the communities they serve.Final Thoughts Police services across Ontario must adapt and respond to the varying needs of their communities. Successful safety and well-being strategies require the active participation of police services, specialized groups, and the public. The engagement between officers and communities is not a static factor, but a dynamic process in which all have the capacity to educate themselves, connect with, and learn from one another. Through initiatives like the ones mentioned here and many others, police and the public can work together to increase a sense of trust and safety in their communities. Through collaborative partnerships and community engagements, services hope to inspire supportive and community-led wellbeing practices across the province.Larissa Pereira serves Ontario’s police leaders as the OACP’s Communications Coordinator. She can be reached at lpereira@oacp.ca.
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