THUNDER BAY –Editorial – “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence”. – Sir Robert Peel.
Those wise words are one of Sir Robert Peel’s nine principles of modern policing. Peel is considered the father of modern policing. In London, England the “Bobbies” as police are called are named after this enlightened police officer.
Would Sir Robert Peel be alive today, one can be certain that he would be on Twitter, Facebook and likely Youtube. It would be consistent with his philosophy of engaging the public.
Making Thunder Bay a safer community means knowing the full scope of the problem. For most people in Thunder Bay that information is a great unknown. The Thunder Bay Police Service report a few incidents to the media. They do not offer a nightly overview of the calls that were responded too by the service each day. They used to do that.
The Thunder Bay Police Service remains a hold-out in engagement of the public via social media.
In fact with the quiet cancellation of their Copsnkids.ca website has taken the Thunder Bay Police Service into apparent full retreat in the area on online engagement of the public.
Asking questions on this issue usually generates a response of silence.
In a community where crime is a major concern, both the Thunder Bay Police Service, and the Police Services Board, which is the civilian oversight to the service, seem to be relatively oblivious to the opportunities that a more engaged relationship with the public-at-large could present.
There are over 70,000 Facebook accounts in Thunder Bay. Even taking the figure that about thirty percent of people do not use their accounts on a regular basis, that would leave about 50,000 of those accounts as active.
The problem appears to be one of embracing the past by the Thunder Bay Police Service executive with an almost death-grip type of determination. Across Canada, that is an attitude that modern and enlightened police services have dropped.
It has not been easy.
Toronto Police Service Deputy Chief Peter Sloly says he was turned on to social media after attending the Social Media the Internet & Law Enforcement (SMILE) conference in Washington, D.C in April 2010.
Deputy Chief Sloly said, “The biggest change for us (with the new technology) is our culture. We are not used to this type of decentralized, high-speed, highly interactive information-sharing environment. Traditionally, policing is a very hierarchal and para-military culture. We don’t give our frontline people a lot of opportunity to speak on behalf of our organization. This is changing all of that and because of that radical change, it made people like me very nervous. It took a lot of convincing and once the lights went on in my head, the lights went on right across the police service. ‘What I love about this approach is that it’s bottom up. It’s our frontline people — those responsible for public safety and interacting with the public – that are telling us that this is the way we need to go”.
“…What we are doing here today doesn’t mean that we are moving away from our commitment to mainstream, community and ethnic media. It means we are expanding our horizons and bringing more people into the house to deal directly with their local police.”
Between Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, the Toronto Police Service have reached out to the people they serve. What it really means is that the Toronto Police Service have offered their officers another tool in fighting crime.
Before you start thinking that engaging the public using social media is something only for large police services and bigger cities, consider that the Chatham- Kent Police Service is perhaps in Canada one of the most engaged communities in engaging the public via social media.
The Chatham Kent Police Service uses the Internet to reach out to the public and to share with them what is going on.
The results? Communities across Canada where the police service are reaching out to embrace new ideas, and social media and engaging their citizens are witnessing a drop in crime rates? Maybe it is because it generates more new allies for the police?
In Thunder Bay, Chief of Police J P Lesveque states, “The men and women of this Police Service are the most valuable resource that we have. Without properly trained, sensitive and dedicated people we could not provide the level of service our citizens have come to expect. We plan to ensure that the members of the Thunder Bay Police Service receive the skills and knowledge needed to maintain high quality service for our communities”.
Chief Lesveque is partly right.
However without the active support of residents in our community, what is at risk is greater escalation of criminal activity, greater activity of gangs, increased problems with substance abuse. The Chief of Police, and all of his officers need more support from civilians across our community. Through empowering the civilian population with greater information, and means of connecting with the police, the task of making Thunder Bay safer will be easier.
The opportunities of engaging the public on a greater degree will help the police service in Thunder Bay, not harm it. All of the Police executive need to keep in mind, “the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence,” as Sir Robert Peel stated.
Moving forward will take embracing change.
Here are some suggestions for the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, and the Thunder Bay Police Service Executive:
- Create a stand-alone Thunder Bay Police Service website. From that new website, include the ability for residents to report certain crimes online. Those would not be serious crimes, but rather property crimes under $5000; Lost or stolen incidents less than $5,000(not including firearms, licence plates or government-issued funds or identification).
- Create a solid online presence on Twitter and Facebook for the Thunder Bay Police Service. When there are robberies, and police are seeking suspects, getting that information out to the public quickly can allow the public to assist in solving those crimes. No one is suggesting that the public get involved as a posse, but rather they can reach out to the police and provide information to police.
- Send several officers, and the Deputy Chief to the Smile Conference which will be held in Vancouver from March 25th to 28th.
- Shift the focus online toward crime prevention as opposed to case clearing. There should be resources for people in our community to access that assist them in making their homes and businesses more secure. Taking a greater leadership in this area will help reduce the incidents that police have to respond to on a daily basis. It is great that the Thunder Bay Police Service maintain such a high crime case clearance level, however the public resources to prevent crime remain largely unavailable. A focus on crime prevention will, in the long run serve the public better.
- Online it is key for the Thunder Bay Police Service to reach out to and to engage Aboriginal youth. Empowering greater engagement and encouraging youth will be critical in the future in our community. Empowering the Aboriginal Liaison officers and expanding the opportunities in our community are going to make a huge difference in the city’s future.
- For the Thunder Bay Police Services Board, the next person appointed to the board should be an Aboriginal representative. Right now the board is not fully representative of our community’s population. The issue presently where jury selection has slowed or stalled some court proceedings because of a lack of Aboriginal representation is likely to become a factor at the Police Services Board. Pro-active action beats reactive action every time.
Moving forward to a safer and more engaged police service might take some of the older officers out of their comfort zones for a while. It will be exactly as Toronto Deputy Chief Sloly expressed, moving away from the culture of the past might be difficult at first.
However embracing the future and changing to adapt to the opportunities presented will help Thunder Bay as a community embrace all of the opportunities coming with the new economy.
Chief Content Officer