New recruits to the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) will get four weeks of "immersion training" to help them build connections with communities in which they'll be working before patrolling the city's streets.
"This immersion training is really for both sides to better understand one another: police to the community but also the community towards the police," said SPVM Chief Fady Dagher at a news conference Monday marking his first 100 days on the job.
"We want them to discover the rich cultural and community history of Montreal."
The training, which is similar to the program that Dagher championed while chief of the Longueuil police service, is part of his effort to better connect police officers to the communities in which they work
It is tied to a recruitment push to increase the diversity of the SPVM's ranks, which Dagher said is also a priority for the service.
"To bring us closer to all the populations, we need the SPVM to reflect diversity a little better — even much better," Dagher said. "We need all populations to feel the SPVM can also be their home. We need to have a better understanding of the needs issues and codes of all populations."
Only 10 to 15 per cent of police live in Montreal
Montreal police officers this month approved a new collective agreement that will see their salaries increase by 20 per cent over the next five years.
That increase should help more officers afford to live on the island of Montreal, Dagher said. Currently, only 10 to 15 per cent of police live on SPVM territory, a reality that means many of them don't feel connected to community in which they work, the chief said.
Fo Niemi, the director of Montreal's Center for Research-Action on Race Relations (CRARR), said it's important for officers to build bonds in their communities.
"I believe the chief, at one point in the past, has spoken of emotional intelligence," he said. "I think it's very important for police chiefs and police organization to emphasize that human quality of police work."
The immersion training that Dagher introduced while chief of police in Longueuil saw officers spend time with community groups, out of uniform, where they were able to form bonds and familiarize themselves with social workers and other partners who frequently work alongside officers to respond to 911 calls.
However, Ted Rutland, an associate professor in the department of geography, urban planning and environment at Concordia University with expertise in policing issues, said it's inefficient and expensive to have officers performing the role of a social worker.
"Instead of doing what a lot of cities are doing and saying we need different kinds of responses to those calls, Fady wants to make the police department into a combination police force/social work operation," Rutland said.
"If it's a social work issue, why don't we have a social worker deal with it?"