Longueuil's 'avant-garde' approach to community policing gets $3.9M funding boost from Quebec
Province hopes more forces will opt for officers who work with community groups to prevent incidents
Quebec is investing in Longueuil police Chief Fady Dagher's model of community police work, allowing 24 more officers to train in different neighbourhoods without weapons or uniforms in the fall.
The government hopes more police forces in the province will adopt similar models.
Quebec's deputy premier and public security minister, Geneviève Guilbault, said her government will spend $3.6 million on the project with an added, recurring $300,000 from the Health Ministry for the Service de police de l'agglomération de Longueuil (SPAL) to hire social workers.
The goal of the project called RÉSO — which began as a pilot project in 2019 — is for certain officers to work within specific communities, to get to know them well enough to be able refer vulnerable populations to resources other than police before matters become criminal.
"These police officers will be chosen for their humanity and their capacity to act as an equal. It's not about being superior to anyone. It's about having humility, modesty and being able to work with partners in the community and institutions … to better detect distress."
"We want to focus on prevention, rather than repression," Dagher said at the announcement Monday.
Guilbault called the approach avant-garde and said the hope is that other municipalities and police forces adopt it.
"It touches on the fight against racism and on issues of health and social services," Guilbault said, noting police are having to respond to an increasing amount of calls related to mental health issues.
"It is in line with the kind of modern policing, with regards to community and proximity to citizens, that we want to see in Quebec."
Longueuil Mayor Sylvie Parent was also at the announcement, as well as Junior Health Minister Lionel Carmant and newly appointed Anti-Racism Minister Benoit Charette.
80% increase in calls related to mental health
Parent said 70 per cent of police calls in Longueuil are related to mental health distress — not crime.
She also said there has been an 80-per-cent increase in the amount of calls related to mental health in the past three years.
Dagher said police officers will receive training without weapons or uniforms over the course of five to six weeks, before working in the community with their equipment full time. One of the things they will learn is how to approach situations without bias.
He wants to eventually reduce the amount of police officers responding to 911 calls by 50 per cent.
"When you're responding to a 911 call, it's already too last-minute. You're already in reaction mode," Dagher said.
Police service has rocky past
In 2019, Quebec's Human Rights Tribunal ruled that the City of Longueuil, and its police force, should pay a Black family $86,000 in damages after officers aggressively arrested their sons and barged into the family home in 2013. The tribunal called for sweeping changes to how the Longueuil police force handles racial profiling cases.
In 2020, the tribunal ordered Longueuil, an officer and former officer to pay Joel Debellefeuille $10,000 in damages, plus interest after he was racially profiled in 2012.
Debellefeuille has been in touch with Dagher as RÉSO was developed, and he commends the commander's effort, but said building trust in the community will be tough. Dagher became Longueuil's police chief in 2017, after having been part of the Montreal police service for years.
"The fact that they're trying, shows they recognize that there is an issue that needs to be addressed," Debellefeuille said.
Systemic racism and racial profiling are complex, deep-seated issues that won't be solved overnight simply by getting to know each other a little better, he said.
Those visible minorities who have felt targeted, profiled and victimized by police for generations aren't going to welcome officers with open arms no matter their intentions, he said.
"There is distrust. For me, there is distrust," he said. "There's a clear divide between both parties."
When both sides are uneasy, Debellefeuille explained,"a lot more has to be done to understand what we are going through in real-world situations where we are in our cars, we're being followed for no reason, we're being pulled over solely for the colour of our skin."
As hard as it will be for some, Debellefeuille hopes hopes visible minorities will try to be open-minded about the new style of policing, he said, but that doesn't mean they should let their guard down.
with files from Matt D'Amours