The Timmins Police Service says it has increased its presence in the downtown area over the past year or so in response to concerns from the community.
“Absolutely. We’ve heard the concerns from the downtown BIA (business improvement association) members and the community at large, and we’ve done, I think, a very good job of throwing resources to the downtown,” said TPS Chief John Gauthier on Wednesday.
“Especially right in the middle of the summer when, traditionally, I have the least amount of staff working because everyone wants the summer off,” he said. “But we re-organized a little bit and we threw a bunch of bodies to the downtown area.”
Gauthier, and two inspectors, were part of an online roundtable discussion hosted by the Timmins Chamber of Commerce called “Keeping Our Business Community Safe” where business owners and other concerned parties could participate and hear directly from TPS leaders.
He said the response to increased TPS presence has been mostly positive.
“I can't say one way or another whether it led to arrests. I did get some really good feedback from certain members of the BIA over the summer, that it seemed to create an atmosphere for the members of the BIA that the police were now a little bit more visible.”
Gauthier explained that staff sergeants have been instructed to assign an officer to the downtown beat whenever possible.
He added that officers also had a presence in other commercial areas such as the Timmins Square, and downtown South Porcupine.
In January of this year, a meeting was held involving BIA and Timmins Chamber members, TPS brass, representatives from Living Space and Mayor George Pirie to discuss the overall safety and security of the city’s commercial areas.
Break-ins, petty thefts, drug use, loitering, and hazards such as discarded syringes have been among the most common complaints received by the various parties.
The TPS has been operating a Street Outreach Team, which is an initiative that was launched in the summer of 2019.
“They were out there as well, walking the beat downtown,” said Insp. Darren Dinel.
Dinel explained that the definition of where “downtown” starts and ends is somewhat debatable.
He also pointed out the focus TPS made throughout the summer to crack down on well-known drug hotspots.
“In the streets adjacent to our downtown core, and I don’t want to say just around Fifth Avenue, we did do a lot of drug enforcement for traffickers that were on the streets, or in close proximity to our downtown core,” said Dinel.
“It was two-fold for a few things. It was a priority we were looking at, because of opioid dealers, as well as it really beefed up our presence in that downtown area. On a number of occasions, our Emergency Response Team was utilized to execute those search warrants, so it brought a number of police officers down in those areas.”
Dinel said the law-abiding residents in the neighbourhood were appreciative of the efforts.
“Again, very well received by a number of the residents that were in those adjacent streets,” he said. “Residents were happy about police presence there, and were very thankful that we were out there dealing with some of those drug dealers in the area.”
TPS Insp. Rick Blanchette, who leads the Emergency Response Team, said he didn’t walk to just talk the talk, he wanted to walk the walk.
“I took it upon myself this summer to go out, probably about a dozen times, to walk the streets and walk the alleyways. I took one of our staff sergeants with me at all times, just to advise people what it is that we expected of our officers to be doing.” Blanchette also mentioned the TPS has a full-time community services officer.
“Her sole duties right now — because she’s not performing other duties she typically would because of COVID — is to walk downtown, and I’m sure a lot of our business owners would have probably seen her. She probably would have walked into their establishments and presented herself.”
He emphasized the TPS has seen and heard the myriad of concerns from the public in recent years concerning safety in the downtown.
“We certainly are taking it seriously,” said Blanchette. “We understand what people want from our service. I like to think we are actually doing what people want us to do, and we’re certainly committed to continue as best as we can.”
Downtown Timmins BIA executive director Cindy Campbell applauded the increased presence by police.
“I have had nothing but a phenomenal response anytime I’ve reached out to the Timmins Police Service for information, answering questions, factual information, separating myth from reality, separating perception from reality, so our partnership with the Timmins Police Service cannot be understated or overstated,” said Campbell.
“We rely on them for their information and for their help. Their community service officers have all been in the office here, introducing themselves, they’ve been in and out of the businesses downtown.”
She spoke on behalf of her membership suggesting that the changes haven't gone unnoticed.
“The word on the street is that there is much more of a feeling of safety, because they see the officers in uniform, and they feel they have that open connection with the Timmins Police Service.”
Andrew Autio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Press