Wellington County councillors were pleased to see how Wellington OPP are shifting after the School Resource Officer (SRO) program was cancelled by the Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB).
In late April, the UGDSB unanimously approved ending the SRO program which would mean police officers no longer have a day-to-day presence at local schools.
This decision and the lead up to it had led to some Wellington County councillors to express concern at previous meetings about possible missed benefits from having close interaction with local youth.
At a Thursday meeting, Sgt. Corrie Trewartha presented County of Wellington council with Wellington OPP’s reimagining of the program that sees a shift to engaging the wider community as well as youth.
The result is the creation of a new unit called the Community Response Unit (CRU), expected to begin this summer with two officers.
“We feel very strongly that we don’t need that physical brick and mortar building to engage, educate and interact with community members of Wellington,” Trewartha said.
“This new program will hopefully provide some flexibility to engage in additional community related and safety events with these new positions.”
She said one of CRU's first mandates will be focus patrols.
This unit can address specific residents complaints, Trewartha gave parking issues around Guelph Lake as an example, more quickly than the OPP may have been able to previously.
Members of this unit will become regular faces at community events, at schools when required and at integrated youth services network hubs among others.
“That will provide great opportunity for event organizers, they’ll often times see the same officers that will know how those events are run to know how those organizers like things done,” Trewartha said.
Guelph/Eramosa mayor Chris White asked for clarification on how the focus patrols work as generally people will call the non-emergency line with their concern and an officer will be dispatched.
Trewartha explained there is more planning involved with this unit as the focus patrols are more about addressing repeated concerns rather than to immediate calls.
Mapleton mayor Gregg Davidson, a former Halton police officer, said he felt having police in schools made a big difference but was glad to see the police service still focusing on young people.
“We’ll still be engaging with youth, that’s very important,” Davidson said. “If we can’t be in the schools, we can certainly be around the schools and certainly engage with them.”
Puslinch mayor James Seeley said he appreciates the pivot, but was still disappointed in the board’s decision to end the SRO program.
“It is integral we interact with youth so it’s great work on the OPP to transition and change. Maybe it is better...history will dictate that,” Seeley said.
Coun. Don McKay echoed Seeley’s statement.
“I was concerned as well about officers being taken out of schools but the program you presented here looks like it’s going to be even better,” McKay said.
“I think it’s very important that the OPP is taking the initiative to get out in the community.”
To have a deeper engagement with youth, Trewartha said they plan to create a youth advisory committee to understand what the youth want to see happen in the community in relation to policing.
Minto mayor George Bridge said engaging with youth remains the most important part.
“I think we really need to keep listening to youth and what their concerns are, as adults we tend to think we know what it’s all about,” Bridge said.
“I'm glad to see that we've got this unit that it's going to be doing a bunch of other things as well because community policing, I believe, is the key.”
The presentation was accepted as information.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com