Chief Paul Burkart
Nelson Police Department
The Nelson Police Department has its 18th member.
It has been over two and a half years since the Nelson Police Board first asked Nelson City Council for the additional staffing.
Even after receiving direction last April from Police Services to hire one more sworn member, our newest member, Constable Lauren Mirva, only began training this past September and graduated in June of this year. During those nine months, the recruit must work with an officer coach and is not to be considered a qualified member, so we were technically running that member short.
Last year and the beginning of this year was very hard on the department for injuries. We had members off injured for 597 shifts in 2016, which is equivalent to one and three quarter positions. With injured police members, it makes it very hard to staff shifts unless members are pulled from other positions or come in on overtime. One of the first positions to be pulled from is the beat officer position and we certainly saw this over the past year.
When we are short-staffed, our members are working short-handed or working extra shifts to cover for those that are injured, and our community is not receiving a proper level of service, and we have seen that in our downtown core these past four or five months.
But in this past month with the swearing in of two new officers, Cst. Andrew Hildred from Saanich Police and Cst. Rob Armstrong who recently retired from the Toronto Police Service, as well as with the graduation of our recruit officer to full duties, we will have, for the first time in our history, eighteen officers. We still have one officer off injured and he will be off until 2018. This was the result of an apprehension of a mental health client, which is unfortunately too common of an occurrence for policing departments. About two-thirds of our injuries to members occur with our interaction with individuals with mental health concerns.
While in the past we would normally be running short with this injured member, we will not be doing that this summer. Cst. Armstrong will be filling in from June until the end of September, which is typically our busiest time of the year. With this part-time temporary member, we will not be running short and will not be required to pull the beat officer from the downtown to cover patrol calls.
With this eighteenth member, we have been able to assign one member as a full-time beat officer and two of our sergeants have been assigned beat duties. We continue to work with our community partners, including the Street Outreach, Mental Health, community service groups and the Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Association in an attempt to address the concerns of both the businesses and our citizens.
We are an extremely busy police department. We are always among the top two or three for criminal code charges per member among the municipal police departments. Last year our dispatchers answered 18,000 telephone calls, 3,100 911 calls, which included about 1,500 911 calls for our department alone.
We looked after 870 prisoners in our cells, including almost 300 of our own arrests. We answered 6,300 calls for service in 2016 with approximately 1,000 of those calls having some mental health component to them. Oak Bay and Central Saanich Police Departments, the next two smallest municipal police departments in the province both of whom have 24 police officers, answer approximately 4,300 calls for service each. Our police officers are answering 30 per cent more calls with 30 per cent less staff.
To better support our civilian staff, we have implemented a telephone answering tree and will be reducing our front counter hours at the department. With our department receiving 18,000 calls per year, the telephone answering tree has allowed us to divert about 40 per cent of our calls to the appropriate department. At present I believe we are the only police department with a 24/7 walk-in front counter. As of August 15, we will be reducing our hours: from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and from 10 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Of course, we will continue to be available by telephone, 24/7 for both emergency and non-emergency calls.
The Nelson Police Department encourages people to contact our department when they come across concerns anywhere in the city. Although I believe you will see a definite increase in police presence during the summer, we still cannot be everywhere we are needed. The citizens and business people are our “eyes on the street,” so please contact our office should you come across anything of concern.
And although I would normally leave this comment to our most capable fire chief Len MacCharles and his staff, I do want to encourage Nelson citizens to be prepared in case of a fire emergency. The lingering smoke serves to remind us that we live in a community that is at risk for wildfires. Please consult the RDCK website for ways you can prepare yourself for a wildfire emergency.