Police union head tells Montreal's new chief: staffing shortages 1st, community policing 2nd

New Montreal police Chief Fady Dagher says he wants to address issues like systemic racism. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)
New Montreal police Chief Fady Dagher says he wants to address issues like systemic racism. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The president of the Montreal police union says Fady Dagher, the new chief of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM), will have to address a shortage of officers before starting new community policing programs.

Yves Francoeur, the president of the Montreal Police Brotherhood, said Thursday at Dagher's induction ceremony that the SPVM was losing officers and struggling with staffing shortages.

Dagher is going to "realize very quickly that there is a lack of police officers in the SPVM," Francoeur said. "This reality that affects our workforce will unfortunately slow down the projects that he wants to put in place."

Dagher, who has been heralded by the mayor's office as the leader of a new police culture, has promised to bring ideas and methods he used when he was chief of the Longueuil police force to Montreal.

In Longueuil, Dagher implemented new programs where officers were embedded in communities. Francoeur said that before Dagher implements similar programs in Montreal, he will have to address other issues.

"At the moment," Francoeur said, "with what we are experiencing in terms of urban violence and shootings, the SPVM is not in a position to free up officers in the field for a community policing model in the near future."

The Quebec government has pledged $225 million to allow the SPVM to hire 450 additional officers over five years — part of a series of promises made in the summer of 2022, after a spate of shootings sparked concern about rising gun violence in Montreal.

But Francoeur said that, despite the government's promise, the SPVM has 45 fewer officers now than it did last year at this time.

"We must first work to make the SPVM more attractive to the next generation of police officers," he said.

In his first remarks as chief, Dagher acknowledged the staffing shortages. He said his first order of business would be to make sure the SPVM has "enough officers on the road" and he would start by speaking to recruits at the École nationale de police du Québec, in Nicolet.

"Yes, life is more expensive in Montreal. Yes, the work is more intense, more complex, more publicized than elsewhere. You are more exposed and challenged. All of this is true," he said in a pitch to young officers.

Ousama Farag/CBC
Ousama Farag/CBC

"But remember why you enrolled in policing. I guess you wanted to make a difference: to protect the population, to fight criminals. It's here in Montreal, where 72 per cent of the crime and mental health distress is, that you can make a difference — a very big difference."

Balancing prevention and repression

Dagher said that as chief he wants to meet with all of Montreal's communities and understand their needs, but then he will try and strike a balance between preventing crime and enforcing the law.

The community policing model he championed in Longueuil is something Dagher has said could be applied to Montreal, but he also said he wants the SPVM to crack down on gun violence through repression — arresting those responsible and stemming the sale of drugs and firearms in the city.

"We have to find the right balance," he said. "Sometimes we have to get closer and closer [to communities] and sometimes we have to be tough on target."

"It's not one or the other. … Both can work extremely well."

Alain Babineau, a spokesperson for the Red Coalition and a former RCMP officer, said Dagher's initiatives in Longueuil demonstrated his "vision in terms of community policing for the 21st century," but he predicted that Dagher would have a harder time bringing those programs to Montreal.

"The SPVM is a different beast," he said. "It's more than twice the number of police officers than are in Longueuil and there's a very strong police union, a police union which has always been very, very resistant to change."