Increasing public transparency and accountability among police officers in the rural regions in the townships, along with a firm desire to head off the steady increase in violent crime in Waterloo Region are two of the reasons why the Waterloo Regional Police Service overhauled their policing deployment strategy starting last month.
Speaking in the Wellesley council chambers on Monday night, police chief Matt Torigian, along with several other senior members of the police service, outlined their plans for redeployment in the Wellesley area.
“We need to be certain that we have the right number of officers in the right place at the right time, in every single neighbourhood whether it be in Wellesley or the core urban areas of Kitchener and Waterloo,” explained Torigian to councillors and about a dozen members of the public.
“The neighbourhood policing deployment structure is the foundation that we require to ensure that our police service not only meets today’s needs, but tomorrow’s as well.”
Regional police have assigned an extra five police officers to what was formally known as Detachment 3A in Elmira, now called Rural North and encompassing all of Wellesley and Woolwich townships. After spending two years of studying police activities in the region, the department realized that their current method of deployment was not working.
Torigian said that while violent crime in Ontario decreased by three per cent from in 2008-2009, it had increased in Waterloo Region by seven per cent. Early indications say 2010 figures will see a similar 10 per cent split, although the crime rate in the rural areas has remained steady.
Under the old model the rural and the urban areas often overlapped, meaning police officers stationed in those areas were spending much more time in the urban areas of Waterloo and Kitchener than in the more rural areas such as Wellesley. As a result, residents of Wellesley rarely saw a police officer in their community.
Under the new model, not only have the townships received five new officers, but those officers are now dedicated to serving solely the rural areas, and are no longer called to assist in the urban zones.
“We think this will enhance the level of service in our rural communities because the policing is different in the rural communities than our core areas,” explained deputy chief Brent Thomlison. “The focus is entirely on the type of policing that is important to the community members in our rural communities.”
Thomlison said officers were only spending about 40 per cent of their time in the Wellesley area responding to calls. The rest of the time they were assisting other units in other zones. Under the new model, officers are spending about 70 per cent of their time in the rural areas, and as a result are more visible in the community.
“We want our officers familiar with the area that they police and the people that live there – to really take ownership of the area they are policing.”
Another driver in this shift of police deployment is to try and increase the amount of time that police officers can engage in proactive police tactics such as going into schools or patrolling targeted crime hot spots.
Currently, only about 11 minutes out of every hour is spent doing proactive work, while 49 per cent of every hour is spent performing reactive work such as responding to emergency calls. Thomlison said that under the new model they hope to increase the amount of proactive work police officers can engage in, thus preventing some crimes before they even happen.
The police service has reallocated 50 officers – 10 in the rural zones and 40 in the urban zones – from specialized assignments back to front-line policing to achieve this.
On Wednesday, Torigian presented his proposed 2011 budget to the police services board, asking taxpayers to fund 60 more officers and 18 more civilian members to help meet their increased demand in the region. That staffing expansion would add an additional $7.8 million to the services expenses spread out over the next four years, with $1.9 million needed for this year.