Communications is the Missing Link in Thunder Bay Policing

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January 2011 Crime Map for Thunder Bay
Map of the crimes in Thunder Bay in January 2011

THUNDER BAY – Editorial – Those who advocate that Thunder Bay is a safe place to live might just be living somewhere else. Over the past several weeks, our community has struggled with robberies, breakins and muggings. Through January our city has had bank robberies, drug store robberies, and sexual assaults and other assaults. We have had several drug busts too. Our frontline police officers are doing the very best they can to make our city safer.

That speaks well to the training and to part of the leadership that our officers receive. If there is an issue where there there appears to be a shortfall, it remains in how information from the Thunder Bay Police Service Executive is communicated to our citizens.

A steady flow of information helps people be safer. A lack of information leaves people more vulnerable and makes for easier victims of crime.

A young lady I know was the victim of a mugging on Saturday night. Her purse was stolen, and she was attacked by two assailants. All she was doing was walking from her home to her vehicle. This young lady was gropped by the assailants who ripped open her jacket. Her purse was stolen, and she lost her id.

She also lost a little bit of her feeling that she was living in a safe city. Her view is that the crooks heard the sound of a bottle of Tylenol in her purse and hoped that they had scored some pills. Now the TBPS were on top of their game and did their best to track down the bad guys, but the reality is they did not catch these two alleged muggers.

Over the past three days, in Thunder Bay, there have been 94 incidents recorded by the Thunder Bay Police Service, This includes a sexual assault, assaults, weapons offenses, thefts of vehicles, and other crimes.

Citizens in our community will likely hear about only a few of the more serious incidents reported to us by the TBPS. The bulk of the crimes in our community seem to be ignored in terms of reporting by the Thunder Bay Police Service Executive.

The TBPS issued 15 updates on its website on crimes committed in Thunder Bay in January.

Yet there were 474 incidents recorded on Crime Mapping over the course of the month. That means just fewer than three percent of the crimes that happen in our community are actually reported to the public.

All one has to do is visit the City of Thunder Bay Police Services Website and read the releases issued by the Police. There is one incident or so, every couple of days.

The problem is that like everywhere else in the world, and as the government of Egypt is finding out this week, people are sharing information, talking with each other, and information is flowing.

There were a number of sexual assaults in our community in January, but the only way anyone would know that is by looking on the crime mapping feature, and then by expanding the default coverage. Is that good enough? That is a question growing numbers of people are starting to ask. It is a question that Chief Herman should be answering if anything before the Police Services Board.

There are however tools that City Council, the Police Services Board and Mayor Hobbs should be looking at toward making Thunder Bay a safer place for us all to live in.

They could include more responsible reporting by the Police to the general public of what is really happening in our city. That could have the effect of making the public feel more involved and more interested in making an effort to help the police. That would like perk up the moral of the frontline officers, who often sadly get the bulk of the public complaints.

Perhaps a solution would be to have the Senior Officer on shift issue the information in a press release. For major issues, instead of the TBPS duplicating the very solid communications job that the City of Thunder Bay has in place, the city staff responsible for all other communications would be responsible for getting the information out to the public.

This is done in many communities, and in Thunder Bay’s case, could likely result in savings for the City in excess of $100,000. That money could be put to use putting another frontline police officer on our streets making it safer here in the city.

Next putting in a Police and Community Awareness Program, which is a community telephone system to advice residents when there is a crime in their area, would be a great step forward.

These kinds of solutions are nothing new. The City of Calgary Police Service, and the City of Toronto both offer some very solid community based solutions that would be easy to implement in Thunder Bay.

Calgary’s Police and Community Awareness Program allow residents to add their telephone number to a police callout system. When crimes happen in your neighbourhood, the police are able to share information with the public.

Calgary also offers citizens the ability to submit reports online. That service is not for reporting serious crimes, but for non-violent and non-life threatening issues. Such a positive step would free up police resources, and allow more officers to be on the front-lines.

Another idea comes from Toronto, the TAVIS system, in that city, puts the police and the community hand in hand making for a safer community.

As President of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, it is very likely that Chief Herman and past OACP President Blair are on good enough speaking terms to share the basics of the TAVIS program.

From Edmonton, the Chief of Police offers residents and Council a quarterly report on the status of crime and safety in the community. Such reports would allow people to better connect with the police, and allow the police to better engage with the public.

From Saskatoon the Chief of Police offers far greater communications. The message from Chief Weighill is current, and shares the police service’s focus and success in 2011. Using the Internet more effectively, in Thunder Bay by the Chief would be a welcome step forward.

All of these kinds of ideas could easily be implemented by the TBPS, all it would take is the determined will from the top by the Chief of Police, or from the Police Services Board to do it.

Second, Police Chief Robert Herman is retiring this July. The City of Thunder Bay should be casting our net far and wide to seek the best possible new Chief of Police for our city.  While Chief Herman with thirty years of service likely represents the best of what was for the past, our next Chief of Police should be an individual who will be more up-to-date and more engaging of the public. Policing has changed a lot and is changing a lot right now.

Thunder Bay needs a Police Chief for our city’s future.

That is not to suggest that there may not be really good people already working for the TBPS, but as that old adage goes, a fresh set of eyes can be far better.

Heinz Marketing states, “If you find smart people with a different perspective, many things happen. They bring a fresh set of eyes, untangled from the past (and present) in which you’ve been living and working. They bring with them fresh ideas that have worked for them elsewhere, that may have never been tried in your company, your market or industry. They bring fresh energy from an entirely different source.”

Doesn’t that sound like what is needed atop the Thunder Bay Police Service?

Mayor Hobbs ran on a platform of making Thunder Bay a safer city. From the Mayor’s Chair he has a powerful position to talk directly to the public and to rally public support for action.

The Police Services Act prohibits the Mayor from directing the Chief of Police in the day-to-day operations.

It does not however preclude the Mayor from making sure that his campaign promises are kept. It is likely that if Hobbs is not able to deliver on that single issue, the entire City Council will be held up to be accountable in the next election.

Talking with Mayor Hobbs; he is more than willing to work with Chief Herman, with a goal of making Thunder Bay a safer city. With Chief Herman, even though he is in the last few months of his service with Thunder Bay, building toward the future should be a goal as the Chief finishes his long career.

From the Mayor’s chair Hobbs can bring along not only his army of “Hobbits” but also, and especially in the case of a safer Thunder Bay virtually every law-abiding citizen in the city.

Our community deserves to be as safe as possible. It is a goal that Chief Herman, the Police Services Board, and City Council should all be in lock-step with Mayor Hobbs and the citizens of our city.

Anyone disagree?

James Murray

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