The future of community policing? Longueuil police launch new foot patrol unit to respond to social issues
Senior Longueuil police officer Patrick Cormier spent his day meeting up with citizens on the street, school administrators, and mental health professionals, to talk about the police's new RESO initiative, an acronym for Reseau d’entraide sociale et organisationnelle.
It's a foot patrol that will deal specifically with people facing social issues that are not necessarily related to law and order — think of it as a prevention team that intervenes before someone calls 911.
“We want to be a catalyst for change. We are social actors and we are here to offer many resources within our network”, said Cormier, who volunteered to be part of the 17-member squad.
They were carefully selected based on their social skills, empathy, and ability to deal with society’s most vulnerable.
Longueuil is the fifth-largest city in Quebec and comes with its share of poverty and social problems.
The police director, Fady Dagher, told La Presse that 911 calls relating to social problems are time consuming and don’t reflect an efficient use of their resources.
Members of the RESO squad, Patrick Cormier explained, are assigned a specific territory where they can build trust with the most vulnerable members of the community.
“I believe it’s part of our reachingout, we’re reaching out really far and really wide,” said Cormier
But for mental health workers, such as Marie-Christine Dion, this new initiative can go a long way into defusing situations where the presence of police can sometimes increase tension.
“If the person is not feeling well, you cannot say, ‘Come with me,’ in that tone of voice. That wouldn't work,” she said.
“So the way a police officer approaches a person and are equipped and have the information, and the how to deal with any type of mental health issue it is really, really important”
Officers who participate in the project say they were committed to it from day one.
“It appealed to me because, again, having been around the block 18 to 20 times it gives me the purpose and the opportunity to better serve my community,” added Cormier.
Even in St-Lambert, a relatively quiet suburb served by the Longueuil police, the thought of dedicated officers to deal with social issues is welcomed.
“[It] makes a huge difference, versus a turnover of people who don't necessarily have the time to get to know us, to speak to the citizens.This is a fantastic initiative and we're super pleased about it,” said newly elected-mayor Pascale Mongrain.
At the REACH school, which provides special education to children, teens and young adults with special needs, principal Marie-Heln Goyetche welcomed the initiative because many of its students already carry the stigma of mental health.
“I think the fact that this police officer will take an extra second to think, this is not a criminal or this adult is not a criminal, this adult might have special needs, or this adult might have a mental illness, it's a different approach,” she said.
The program’s cost is $7.2 million dollars, financed equally between the province and the City of Longueuil. If it delivers on its promises, it would then become permanen, with the ambitious goal of turning half of Longueuil’s police force into the program.
The experience is being closely watched by other police services, who may be tempted to try what many are calling the future of community policing.