Ottawa police want to know whether residents think the city's 14 community police centres should close or not.
There were 15, but one such community centre in Herongate — a high-crime neighbourhood — has already been shut down because of environmental health and safety issues, says Supt. Tyrus Cameron.
, especially in this time. We thought, ... let's think how we can do this differently, let's be smarter, how can we do this? Because I really think the bricks-and-mortar time is a time of the past. Let's move on," Cameron says.
Honeida Salih is a resident who moved to Herongate last summer.
"I mean I thought the police department was open ... and it was comforting, but once I found out it wasn't it made me [feel] eerie a little bit," Salih says.
"In any area that you live in, a community police centre is better than no community police centre. But in this area specifically I did feel like it was a lot more necessary than where I did live before."
Centres introduced in early 1980s
Community police centres were introduced in the early 1980s to create a more direct link between residents and officers when desktop computing reigned supreme.
Neighbourhood Watch and other volunteer programs are based out of the centres, and Cameron says residents drop in to file reports or ask for information about how to get security checks for their homes, for example.
But he says the officers might be of more use in the field.
"I don't want them to be the Maytag repairmen of police officers, sitting there, being the loneliest guy in town, waiting for things to come in when I know they can be out engaged with the community, out keeping people safe."
Centres cost $180K per year
While a comprehensive review of the program has never been done until now, Cameron says drop-in numbers at the centres have historically been low.
Today the centres cost the police force about $180,000 per year, he adds.
"Is that a cost that we need? Or can we do it differently, do it smarter, still keep engaged with the community and working with our partners to keep everyone safe?"
So far there's no timeline for possible closures.
"People expect [officers] to be in there certain hours, but if I've got an officer inside, they're not out helping people get safe … We are committed to, obviously, community police officers, but maybe not centres."
Instead, Cameron says officers could meet with people in local businesses or community centres, such as Ottawa Public Housing's offices, the Somerset West Community Health Centre, or even coffee shops.