Lt.-Gov Judith Guichon and Mayor Deb Kozak are seen at Touchstones Nelson next to the uniform of Edgar Dewdney

COLUMN: Looking at the big picture in policing

Nelson Mayor Deb Kozak comments on the visit from the Lieutenant Governor of BC, plus local policing.

On May 14 the Queen City was delighted to receive a visit from the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, Judith Guichon. Her Honour was an energetic and inquisitive guest and she enjoyed meeting the people of Nelson as much as we enjoyed hosting her at Touchstones and Trafalgar School.

As a cattle rancher from the Chilcotin, Her Honour is very knowledgeable about the issues facing rural British Columbians and is very engaged in promoting the needs of agriculture. Her visit lasted less than 24 hours and she departed with a sincere invitation to return.

A tremendous amount of time and energy has been put into Nelson police services since the election and I’d like to update you on how things are progressing.

My goal was, and continues to be, to improve the relationship between the police board and city council through better communication and building understanding. I’ve had many conversations with community members, board members, council, staff, our officers and others. It has been a rich and challenging experience and we’ve learned a lot.

The April 14 joint meeting between council and the board was a successful first step in the process. This facilitated session provided an opportunity for each member of council and the police board to share their thoughts and begin the conversation about the request to increase the number of officers.

These challenging situations, lead us to consider new things and to think in different ways and that is what we are doing. I’ll be frank; no one assumed that an agreement would be reached, but this meeting was the first building block to thinking about what the future of police services in our community might look like.

I’ve learned that the future of policing services province-wide is under review and that change is coming in the next few years. Nelson is ahead of that curve as we embark on these discussions locally. The provincial discussion began with Justice Wally Oppal’s report that was tabled in the ‘90s: pssg.gov.bc.ca/policeservices/shareddocs/specialreport-opal-closingthegap.pdf.

Some of the Oppal recommendations were implemented, others not. The provincial task force has picked up the ball and is looking at this and other strategies as they plan for policing into the next century. Our local council and board is paying close attention to this work.

Police interactions with people experiencing mental health issues is not a unique phenomenon in our community, but a global issue. Police as first responders are the “go to” service. As demand has increased, so has the urgency to identify the core factors and cooperate with community supports to address the issue appropriately.

We are meeting with Interior Health and community agencies to complete the circle, be aware of what is available and to coordinate services. In my search for solutions, I also spoke with Jonny Morris from the Canadian Mental Health Association. He has put us in touch with some regional resources and is currently pulling together a pilot project. Nelson will be invited to take part. Interior Health staff will attend an upcoming meeting with the Nelson Police Board to educate members on what is available and what IH is considering.

I attended two conferences in the last few weeks that were of great help in looking at the big picture in policing in our province and internationally. The first was the annual meeting of the BC Police Association boards which I attended with our board and deputy chief. This event provides education and the opportunity to connect with other municipal boards from across the province. Clayton Pecknold, assistant deputy minister of police services, led a session to inform us about the progress of the provincial review.

The committee just completed a cross-Canada review of other forces and boards to understand how they operate. This information is being collated and will be shared. My conversations with other board members and police chiefs at the conference were helpful, informative and encouraging. A consistent message from all was the importance of strong relationships between council and board and clear understanding of roles.

The second conference I attended was about risk management and insurance. The conference was held in the US where the police culture is different, but the topics were useful. While not specific to policing, there were two sessions that were about challenges facing police.

One identified issues of privacy with new surveillance technology. Body cameras and drones are being used extensively and while there are benefits, there are challenges.

BC is considering making body cameras mandatory for police and I found this session helpful in considering the ramifications. The second session was about improving interactions between civilians and police. This is a critical issue in the US. The presenter was clear in his recommendation to de-militarize police services and concentrate on excellent communication and relationship building with the community. I think that is a strong suit in our police department.

There is much more happening, but these are the highlights of this journey. I’ll continue to keep you informed on our progress and welcome your feedback. Contact me at dkozak@nelson.ca.

Mayor Deb Kozak shares this space weekly with her council colleagues.

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