Following the recent death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in the United States, there is a call south of our border to disband police forces and, in Toronto, to decrease funding for police.
According to a recent CBC article, one city, Camden New Jersey, did just that several years ago and formed a new force with major changes.
The ‘new’ force focused on ‘community service’ that included foot patrols, being part of the community through events such as BBQs and involvement with residents on a personal level.
Interestingly, the Camden initiative was lead by a Canadian from Vancouver, Bruce Main.
In Saugeen Shores, it would appear that local police are ahead of the times. They have been focused on community service for many years and, in fact, take part in some 18 local organizations and events. Why? Simply because the officers live in their community, raise their children in their community and are involved.
From “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” in support of stopping violence against women to going into schools on a regular basis though the K.I.D.S. program and holding a community BBQ in support of Pride Month in June to Rotary Shop with a Cop for the Food Bank, local police are heavily involved in the community.
Chief Mike Bellai says that, ““The Saugeen Shores Police Service is committed to the safety and security of all members of our community. As a community police service, we have been listening to the heartbreak of communities affected by racism—and we are committed to doing our part to eliminate racism and its effects when it comes to delivering bias-free policing. The Saugeen Shores Police Service is based on respect, honesty, diversity, courage and community trust. We must all trust and support each other as we continue to fight for equality in our community.”
With an uncle who was a policeman, I admit I (may) have a bias toward policing having heard many stories. When men and women of the police service put on their daily uniform, every day is a challenge – from dealing with the increased presence of illegal drugs, with domestic violence, attending vehicle accidents, attending in drug overdose situations, dealing with sexual assaults and many more. Every day is a difficult challenge, never knowing what is going to happen.
With talk now evolving about moving larger urban centres toward ‘smaller format’ police services to provide that community-based service and to reducing police budgeting, police services across the world are undergoing scrutinity to provide ‘meaningful change’.
Is defunding police services, given today’s escalating crime, drugs and domestic violence, the answer? Perhaps …. perhaps not. There is, for instance, a push to slash the largest police force funding in Toronto, Canada’s largest force.
There is no doubt policing is a complex subject but, maybe, just maybe, police services could take a lesson from community-based, and draw from, local police forces such … as Saugeen Shores.