Greater Sudbury Police formally introduced the next evolution of policing in the city Wednesday with the hiring of eight community safety officers.
The six will take over several non-emergency duties currently done by sworn officers – at a much lower cost. It's part of the Sudbury forces efforts to lower the cost of policing
without affecting service levels.
Chief Paul Pedersen told members of the police services board that this was a “historic” event for police, because the community safety officers (CSOs) mean sworn officers can devote more time to fighting crime.
He said there are growing demands on police time to deal with issues such as bear calls, and new regulations mean cases that used to be resolved quickly now take several hours or more.
“We know there are a lot of costs associated with public safety,” he said. “There are a number of cost drivers, and we're not always in control of those cost drivers.”
Police have also become more active in the community, conducting programs in schools and neighbourhoods in an effort to prevent crime before it happens. Sudbury officers also conduct bicycle patrols in warmer months to interact more directly with the public.
“The feedback from the community has been fantastic,” he said, but those initiatives cost money. Those sorts of costs have driven up the police budget – around $52.5 million this year, up 2.6 per cent from 2014 – even as crime rates have been declining.
“There aren't too many communities who are saying we want fewer police officers,” Pedersen said, adding he considers it “offensive” when people ask why budgets are increasing when crime is down.
“Bringing crime rates down is our job,” he said, adding that it was time for “a new model of service delivery.”
Community safety officers are part of that effort. The force conducted a review of how it operates and singled out several duties that could be handled by the CSOs.
“We asked ourselves, are there components of those positions that can be done by other people?” Pedersen said. “Now it's time for the nuts and bolts of how we bring that to life.”
The eight will be taking over work identified as not being part of the core duties of sworn officers. They include: dealing with the media, liaising with Crime Stoppers, getting statements from non-urgent crime scenes (for example, house and car break and enters), crime prevention, missing person and youth safety.
The CSOs will still wear uniforms, but they will be baby blue, with blue striped pants and hats.
“They will still be instantly recognizable as members of GSPS,” he said.
However, they won't have firearms and their duties will be restricted to non-urgent duties.
“They will never, ever expected to be making citizens arrests or anything like that,” Pedersen said. “They are there to free up sworn officers. That's why we're bringing them in here. We can put those sworn officers out on the road.”
And estimated six sworn officers will now be able to concentrate on core police duties, he said, allowing the force to improve things like response times.
Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini praised the initiative, saying Sudbury is ahead of other police forces.
“This is definitely taking us into the future,” Vagnini said.