What you need to know about the Ottawa police patrol overhaul next week

Next week, the Ottawa Police Service will change how hundreds of front-line officers are deployed. The CBC's Kate Porter explains what it all means.

Police holding information sessions across city

Supt. Mark Ford says the redeployment of frontline officers taking place Jan. 23, 2017 is one of the biggest changes to happen in the organization in two decades, but he says much of the change is internal and the public shouldn't see major differences. (CBC)

Next week, the Ottawa Police Service will overhaul how it deploys hundreds of front-line officers — some two thirds of the force.

"I lived through the amalgamation in 1995," said Supt. Mark Ford of the period when the Ottawa, Gloucester and Nepean police forces came together.

"When I talk to the officers, they say this is the biggest change we've seen in the organization since 1995."

So, what does it all mean?

What will change on Jan. 23?

Ford said the 800 officers who do front-line work are being brought together under one front-line department.

Right now, the Ottawa Police Service has front-line officers spread across three departments: patrol, neighbourhood, and emergency support (think the canine unit and planning for special events). Patrol and neighbourhood officers are organized geographically in 18 patrol platoons divided among the east, central and west districts.

As of Jan. 23, all the neighbourhood and district officers will be pooled together in one big platoon, said Ford, and supervisors will work together to look at issues through a more city-wide lens. For example, it will help officers be more quickly deployed to the ByWard Market during frosh week, he said.

The job of getting at the root of issues and policing in a proactive way will fall to everyone.

"It's more of a generalist approach. We all share that responsibility," Ford said.

Of those front-line officers, Ford said some 150 will remain in specialized support roles, such as being school resource officers, doing traffic enforcement, marine dives, and attending to possible explosives.

Ten community officers will remain, down from 15.

Why is the force reorganizing?

A few reasons: money, high-tech crimes on the horizon, and patrol officers who are already stretched.

'It's a very flexible, adaptable, nimble model so we can deploy our officers where we need them, when we need them.- Supt. Mark Ford

Ford said that over the years the various departments were working in silos rather than together, leading to a duplication of work.

Patrol officers are too busy at a time when the force is under more pressure to keep up with emerging crimes that are more complicated, such as cyber and trafficking cases, as well as more incidents that involve people with mental health issues, he said.

Another big reason is financial. Every year, the police are under pressure to find efficiencies and balance their budget. They have to prove they're being as efficient as they can if they want to ask for money to hire extra officers.

How can they keep on top of neighbourhood issues?

Ford said the changes the police are making will take away some workload for officers and free them up to work with communities to solve their problems.

"In order to succeed, we have to ensure that officers have that time and aren't just consumed with going from call to call to call," he said.

This front-line piece is just the latest step in a multi-pronged "service initiative" that started a few years ago.

For instance, the police have already created centralized places where residents can report collisions, allowed people to file more reports electronically, gotten out of taking late-night noise calls, created a high-tech centre to try to feed real-time intelligence to officers, and reorganized the officers who do criminal investigations.

Now, patrol officers will no longer write up reports at a break-and-enter call. Instead, a crime scene analyst will go straight there.

Will my neighbourhood lose its relationship with its community officer?

Up until now, Ottawa police have had "neighbourhood" and "community" officers. Neighbourhood officers tend to be out in the field working on problems as a team, while community officers are responsible for running the community policing centres, such as working with volunteers.

The neighbourhood officers — Ford said there are about 40 of them — are being folded into the front-line pool, and are arguably the officers most affected by the restructuring. 

Meanwhile, police will also have five fewer dedicated community officers, for a total of 10.

Ford said the new model will make all officers more effective.

"The models that work the best, in our experience, are the ones where we work with communities and other agencies to get at the root causes of problems," Ford said.

But residents haven't been so sure, and said so during consultations this past year.
"I'm not buying any of that," says Coun. Diane Deans of the idea that community problems will be better solved under one big, city-wide platoon. (CBC)

Coun. Diane Deans said her Gloucester-Southgate ward has been blessed with community-focused officers who attend events, and build respect for police among residents.

Deans isn't buying that a city-wide platoon of officers will do proactive work better than the status quo.

"When you put them in a big pool and they don't develop rapports with neighbourhoods, then the whole thing breaks down."

Where can I find out more?

The police are holding information sessions across the city, limited to 100 people per session:

  • Monday, Jan. 16, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in halls C and D of the Nepean Sportsplex at 1701 Woodroffe Ave.

  • Wednesday, Jan. 18, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in upper hall A of the Kanata Recreation Complex at 100 Charlie Rogers Pl.

  • Thursday, Jan. 19, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Hiawatha room of the Bob MacQuarrie Recreation Complex at 1490 Youville Dr.

  • Wednesday, Jan. 25, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in council chambers at Ottawa City Hall at 110 Laurier Ave. W.

About the Author

Kate Porter

Reporter

Kate Porter covers municipal affairs for CBC Ottawa. Over the past decade, she has also produced in-depth reports for radio, web and TV, regularly presented the radio news, and covered the arts beat.