Public safety is only possible through a strong relationship between the public and the police. The police and the public each have a role in public safety, and each is different from the other.
In many ways, you can view it on a spectrum: on one end is emergency response and law enforcement, and on the other end is community capacity building. The further we get away from traditional “law enforcement,” the more important the role of the community.
Years ago when I worked patrol in Edmonton, city planners had a vision for a beautiful park, a sort of oasis in the middle of the city. It had plenty of foliage, walkways, a creek and plenty of green space for people to enjoy. A large berm was built to mute the park from the honking horns, loud delivery trucks and all the other noise that comes along with a city center.
The problem with the berm was that it created a place for criminal activity. You couldn’t see inside the park from the street, which attracted drug dealers — it became the perfect place to run their business. Where there are drug dealers there are all sorts of other terrible things that happen, and we dealt with everything from assaults to robberies and, unfortunately, homicides.
We did our best to enforce the law within the park but we just couldn’t get a handle on it. Calls for service were through the roof and people were afraid to be anywhere near there after dark.
Eventually the citizens that lived in the area got fed up with this scenario and lobbied city hall to redevelop the park in such a way that criminals could not exploit it. The city listened, redesigned the area and cleaned it up. Residents took ownership of the park and created the Friends of Beaverhill Park association to ensure that the criminal world didn’t take over their neighbourhood again. They got their park back.
The police could not fully solve this problem. It was not until the public got involved that solutions were created. And this is the magic of community policing: when the community comes together to prevent crime and build capacity, great things happen.
The Delta Police Department benefits from working with a very active and engaged community, perhaps one of the key reasons Delta was ranked one of the best places in Canada to live.
Neil Dubord is the Delta Police Department’s chief constable. He joined the DPD on June 29, 2015 after three years as chief of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police and 25 years with the Edmonton Police Service where he was the Deputy Chief in charge of Community Policing Bureau.