The Ottawa Police Service is restoring community policing to three neighbourhoods this fall, reversing a policy some saw as a major blunder. "We heard from our community. We heard from membership. We definitely heard from our police services board that we have to get back to community policing, and so that's what we are doing," said interim Chief Steve Bell.
Bell said teams of eight community officers will be deployed in October to Carlington, south Ottawa, and Vanier/Overbrook, with plans to expand the approach if it works in those neighbourhoods.
"We know when we put boots on the ground, we build better relationships. When we build those better relationships we have better, increased public safety in those areas," he said.
In a heavily criticized move, the force withdrew all but 14 of about 60 neighbourhood officers in 2017, redeploying them to frontline units. That left community police stations staffed only part-time.
That was widely seen as "a huge mistake," according to Sahada Alolo, co-chair of the police's Community Equity Council.
"There's a lot of distrust among community members of the police, but if the police officers are in the communities, working hand-in-hand, we can begin to build the trust," Alolo said.
Bell denied the move was a mistake, but admitted it didn't go as planned.
"Theoretically, it was very sound, [but] it didn't work the way we wanted to," he said. "We need to actually listen what people have to say and put those resources in those communities."
Tailored to each community
Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans, who became police board chair in December, said both she and residents have been demanding the change.
"Police need to know the players in the community and the community needs to know the police," she said.
Rideau-Vanier Coun. Mathieu Fleury said he hopes the new model is sustainable and will allow police to tap into resources such as school boards and social services.
"Right now, what we're seeing is police running from call to call and that simply doesn't get to the more complex issues," he said.
Bell said the police service wants to tailor each unit to its community, including neighbourhood-specific training.
"[Vanier has] one of the largest Inuit populations outside of the North. It would be very beneficial for our officers to understand the nuances of that culture," he said.
The move is one part of the service's latest strategic plan, meant to guide the force until the end of 2020.