By Greg Price
As the Taber Police Service continues to forge ahead in its community policing model and with it, did a groundbreaking analysis late last year.
In an effort to ensure the Taber Police Service is meeting the needs of groups of diversity within the community, a Diversity SWOT Analysis was completed.
The two-day focus group workshop was conducted on and included individuals from the Taber Equality Alliance, Filipino Society of Taber, the First Nations-Metis-Inuit (FNMI) community, and the Low German Mennonite community. The acronym SWOT refers to Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.
The Taber Police Service’s business plan and Alberta Policing Standards require that police services engage with groups of diversity so that those most vulnerable in our society feel safe.
Conducting focus groups assists the Taber Police Service in gaining important information from groups of diversity in the community, assists with answering questions about police policy and practices, and building relationships with those individuals that might be apprehensive or less inclined to call the police.
The results are posted on the Taber Police Service Web site with the Town of Taber as authored by Cst. Mathieu Champagne.
“From a policing perspective, it’s very informative. It’s also part of our organizational mission statement to inform, involve and project the community of Taber,” said Graham Abela, chief of the taber Police Service. “That means everyone. The involved part is important as well. The involved part are the things we are addressing like our focus groups.”
Practising community policing, it is a philosophy of the department in which they apply to practice, building relationships with the community to promote public safety.
“Those relationships are very important to us, and those relationships have to be with all, they can’t just be with a select few,” said Abela. “In our community, we have a great amount of diversity and it hasn’t always been that way. There have been smaller pockets of diversity in the past, but we are starting in the southern Alberta area to reflect the bigger centres.”
Abela added the focus area of these groups that are seen as diverse are being over-represented in the legal system, mostly as victims.
“As a result of that, that is our business. Our business is public safety, but we know we have priority clients within that business and victims of crime are one of them,” said Abela. “We spend a lot of time with victims and when we know that we have an over-represented population of victims, we spend a lot of time with those victims. As a result, we want to know we have a really strong relationship with those people. First of all, so they are not afraid to come and report. We want everyone in this community to feel comfortable to come report to the police service that something has happened ot them.”
That means perhaps something not even crime related, as the Taber Police Service is the only aid service that is open 24-7 besides the hospital.
“When people need help in Taber for anything, it could be ‘my pilot light is out,’ all the way to a murder,” said Abela. “We need to be able to be there to assist. I would suggest you, we are mental health workers for the mentally ill. We children services workers in the evenings, we assiSt with issues of poverty, housing and transportation. The things we do as police officers now are far different than when the community policing philosophy was first written by Sir Robert Peel in 1829. However, those philosophies still exist, they are just different in their applications.”
With increased demands on policing, the focus group recognized that, wondering how the police service would be able to keep up with those demands.
“We recognize that, the pressures both internal and external in our organization. Those are things as a police service that we have to examine and sometimes we have to push back a little bit and say ‘community, this is your responsibility, it isn’t the police’s,” said Abela. “But, in getting a better understanding in the issue of diversity and building relationships so that wall between the police and the public can be brought down, sometimes that wall exists. We heard it from those communities that sometimes they are afraid to come to the police and we want to do whatever we can from our perspective to try and break down those barriers.”
That end product is not always the easiest as the role of police is that they are unbiased. Individuals who have to search for facts and evidence, while at the same time protect peoples’ fundamental rights.
“We are the only people in Taber besides the BAR Law Society who have sworn an oath to uphold the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for everyone,” said Abela. “We can’t trot on someone’s rights if it interferes with someone else’s. We need to be bias free which is our promise to the community.”
The focus group of the Diversity SWOT Analysis was handpicked for the pilot project. Having hosted community forums in the past in which the police service has asked everyone to come, only a select few show.
“We wanted to get a better understanding from specifically groups of diversity in this case. We chose these four and reached out to their leaders in the community,” said Abela. “Because of its success, we plan on doing more with other groups we can identify.”
Abela admits the information gleaned from the Diversity SWOT Analysis that can be found on the Taber Police Service Web site in its entirety is not all sunshine and rainbows.
“That was one of the main reasons for the focus groups. You don’t know how segments of the population are being provided a service unless you ask them, especially if they are scared to tell you,” said Champagne. “The people from the focus groups could be coming from another country, or a different city in Canada, and if they haven’t been provided the service the way they believe they should be, or were provided a service in a negative way, why would they come back? All police services do not provide the same service, even the one’s in Alberta, let alone the country or the world.”
Chief Abela noted from reading the results of the SWOT Analysis, the department needed to communicate better exactly how diverse they are.
The detachment has 15 sworn officers which represent both genders, staff of East Indian, Fist Nations, Mennonite and Asian descent.
“We got from the stakeholders that we could have more diversity within the organization, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t. I’m just saying that’s the perception, yet from our perspective, we feel we are quite diverse,” said Abela. “I take that upon our perspective, that we need to do a better job in telling people how diverse we are.”
In the basic recruit curriculum for the police service, the concept of bias-free policing is introduced right away and has been around for decades.
“However, I think we can bolster that in professional development training as we go throughout our career,” said Abela. “There is an opportunity to enhance that and Matt (Champagne) has already taken steps in enroll us in some online training that is available as an introductory course that supplements our basic training. That will be an ongoing continuous effort. Even since Nov. 7 (dates of the focus groups), we have already taken steps to try to better our position in relation to what those stakeholders have said.”
For Cst. Champagne, dealing with diversity is never a static thing. Terminology used and reflections of Canadian society are ever changing.
“Whether you are a 15-year, 10-year or even a five-year member, the training reflecting what is happening in our society is changing. If you haven’t had training in 10 years with different diversity groups, that needs to be continually updated. We are looking at the best reflective training we can receive,” said Champagne.
Champagne encourages residents to read the lengthy report on the police service Web site which are results directly taken form the focus groups.
“There is a lot in that report. It is not a reflection in the report of the Taber Police Service’s opinion of how we do our job. This is a direct reflection of four separate diversity groups in our community and how they see policing and how it is provided to their group,” said Champagne. “It’s an important document because you could have four or five people together and they could all have a different view on how the police are serving them. If certain groups don’t feel welcome to come to a forum, they won’t come, that’s why we specifically targeted these groups.”