The North Bay Police Service says its Community Response Unit (CRU) is not yet fully staffed but its supervising officer and a future team member have been laying the groundwork for its full implementation downtown — and in any other area of North Bay and Callander it is warranted. The CRU will officially begin operations in the new year.
"Are there challenges and issues downtown? Absolutely," acknowledges Deputy Police Chief Michael Daze. Part of the new team's mandate is "to be downtown, doing foot patrols, interacting with the public, and interacting with downtown business owners and stakeholders."
Although NBPS says the CRU is not a direct response to issues raised by some downtown business owners, police brass says it does fit the bill in addressing the concerns.
Sgt. Richard Hampel will oversee the unit and has been out on many foot patrols in uniform in the past few weeks. He says the high visibility of a uniformed officer helps deter people from social disobedience acts, such as public urination or open drug use. He says his team's approach will not be one of "zero tolerance," but rather "a high enforcement rate."
"If it is observed by our officers, then absolutely we'll take enforcement," says Hampel. "We are looking for high enforcement and if we're in the downtown core and somebody commits a mischief, we're going to arrest, we'll charge."
Police Chief Scott Tod distinguishes between social disorder and criminal acts and says the unit is not targeting homeless people with the foot patrols.
"We don't want to take a marginalized population and criminalize them. We will have better resources in the City of North Bay to work with," says Tod, citing the mobile crisis team and expected withdrawal management services through the low-barrier shelter. " There is a lot of room for Sgt. Hampel's team to be collaborative as far as the social disorder part but be strict in enforcement on the criminal part."
"We have tried to increase our presence downtown and we do have one officer that we've taken out of the uniform," Daze says. "That officer will be part of the Community Response Unit next year but that one officer has already started working with Sgt. Hampel."
NBPS reports it is seeing results from the increased activity in the downtown core. Daze shares statistics from the downtown patrols for a period of 22 days ranging from mid-October to the end of the first week in November. NBPS reports 17 arrests from 34 foot patrols.
"The foot patrol is there to be visible. It doesn't mean every downtown business owner will see a uniformed officer every day. The officers may start at one end of the street and they may end up arresting somebody 10 minutes into their foot patrol and then their off processing that person," says Daze. "They may patrol the whole of Main Street one day and then the subsequent streets another day. I appreciate that not everybody sees the police all the time but they're not there all the time. They're off doing other tasks, other functions."
Daze clarifies both the vision of NBPS for the new team and the role policing plays amid social issues such as mental health, addictions, and homelessness.
"This unit will not be a 24/7 downtown foot patrol," states Daze. "It's a community[-wide] response unit. It will be up and running in January 2021. It is a four-person unit that will operate in teams of two, supervised by Sgt. Hampel. The unit has several approaches it will take."
Daze says, although officers will carry radios and can be dispatched to calls in their response area, they will not be pulled away for emergency calls, the team's focus will remain on the community response aspect. The CRU will be a uniformed patrol for the most part, although Daze says the option is there for plainclothes work.
"They will be downtown at different times of the day, sometimes before businesses are open, dealing with people on the streets that need some help. It may be after businesses are closed," Daze advises. "They will be in teams of two, working days, afternoons, nights and they will be working with immediate challenges that are facing the community."
Besides dealing with crime, Daze says the unit will engage with the community and provide support and resources if they need help. The team will deal with challenges that face the downtown core but also immediate challenges that face other neighbourhoods. The Deputy Chief gives an example of an industrial part of town that had seen a rash of recent break-ins to which the team might shift its focus as an immediate concern.
"Crime isn't just downtown, it's across the city," adds Daze. "We need to be able to respond and have a visibility and a presence, as much as we can, in all of those locations."
Tod concludes, "Wherever this team is working, it will be a proactive approach, rather than a reactive approach."