Community Policing Forum

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) hosted the Community Policing Forum: Building Trust Together on May 13, 2019. The aim of the event was to gather input from the community in order to improve the service’s community policing model and inform the development of new Neighbourhood Policing Teams.

The day-long event at St. Elias Centre drew over 100 participants, of which 30 percent were members of the OPS. Other participants included representatives of community associations and service organizations, advocacy groups, OPS board members, city councilors, students and members of public.

Community Policing is the process by which police and other community members partner to improve community wellbeing, safety and security through joint problem identification, analysis, response, and evaluation. Although community policing has long been a guiding model for the Ottawa Police, how it has been put into action has shifted in recent years. Participants heard from police officers who shared their frontline experience and community policing perspectives, as well as from community members who offered academic and grassroots perspectives on the application of community policing approaches.

Crowd sitting at tables at Police Community ForumPolice officers explained the newly developed Integrated Community Policing Strategy, and discussed how this strategy aligns with the Ontario Mobilization & Engagement Model of Community Policing. They noted that while there are multiple components of community policing, frontline community police officers are the most visible and integral to community engagement. Success requires this community engagement, which can be fostered through positive and respectful communication. It is also important to build awareness within communities about the need for both ‘soft and hard’ policing and for joint approaches to complex social problems. Police emphasized that they need community input to help identify priority issues, as well as community buy-in to develop effective responses.

Community members who addressed the participants shared perspectives gained through academic research, frontline advocacy, and community security work. There was discussion about differences between the standard policing model, which is reactive and incident driven, and the community policing model, which is proactive and intelligence driven. Community policing involves the development of partnerships and a focus on problem-solving. Implementation of community policing models can produce multiple benefits, such as increased cooperation and communication, but it also comes with some risks, such as perceptions by marginalized groups of targeting and the conflation of social problems into ‘police problems’. Effective community policing requires strength in ‘soft skills’, such as conflict de-escalation, positive engagement, and approachability.

Several interactive group activities, involving purposeful play with Lego and guided conversations, provided opportunities for participants to explore what community policing looks like, and how it can be improved. Participants had many ideas about how to make community policing more effective in Ottawa, and how to address some of the current challenges. Their recommendations can be grouped in four key themes:

  • Build partnerships and bridges: Meaningful, intentional connections need to be developed and strengthened between police and residents. For example, “Put police back into the communities with a permanent presence – both physical and through patrols.” 
  • Be visibly and actively engaged: Communities appreciate police participation in events, and positive engagement with children and residents. They want to see more community police officers, and officers who are active and engaged. “Get out of the car.”
  • Foster mutual trust: Trust is fostered when police are known to residents, when they listen to concerns in the community. “Have community interactions count as stats and give value for community policing and community engagement.”
  • Acknowledge underlying challenges: It is necessary to address the root causes of challenges in the community, such as racism and inequality. “Be able to fully understand all the concerns and issues of our diverse community.”

Participants repeatedly expressed their desire to see community policing strengthened in Ottawa. Recommendations called for increased community police presence, resources, and visibility in communities. But participants also urged police to shift their focus toward positive, pro-active engagement with residents. With the exception of concerns expressed about the need for OPS to address perceptions of racial-targeting and bias, there was general agreement that communities which have Community Police Officers appreciate and value these officers. There seemed to be widespread recognition that improving community policing in Ottawa requires investment not just from individual officers and community members, but from management and leadership within the Service, as well as from municipalities in terms of resource allocation.

This report provides a summary of the key themes which emerged regarding best practices and goals for community policing in Ottawa. The first part of the report identifies key themes from the forum presenters: police officers and community partners. The second part identifies ideas and recommendations that were developed through group activities and conversations, including top ideas for moving forward toward a more effective model of community policing. The report ends with a summary of participants’ recommendations, more detailed accounts of which can be found in the appendices.