A new police board, the use of social media and a growing concern over policing costs — Ian Grant’s first year as police chief was an eventful one.
A summary of that year is captured in the Brandon Police Service’s 2013 Annual Report, which was released on Wednesday.
Officially sworn in at a ceremony in January 2013, Grant said the year had a good start on a personal level when he received a warm welcome as the new chief.
"Having that acceptance from the community, and having the acceptance from inside the organization ... that to me was a positive thing and a great highlight," Grant said.
"Community" seemed the theme for the force in 2013.
Grant said there was a focus on community policing patrols — he challenged officers to park their cars and talk to citizens.
The force began to formally count the number of such patrols. Its goal was to do 180 in 2013, and officers did 396.
It also aimed to do 100 school presentations and did 198.
The force also signed on to Twitter and Facebook for the first time in 2013. Social media wasn’t just used to share information, it was used to show a more "personal" side to the force.
In addition, last year marked the introduction of the city’s police board, as required under the province’s Police Services Act.
"I think they really want to work with the police service to reach out to the community, to try and make us an even better organization," Grant said of board members.
The BPS and the board hosted a community safety and policing public forum, and the feedback they gathered will be used to develop a new strategic plan for the force.
By the numbers — in 2013 the police budget grew even as the crime rate fell.
The 2013 budget was $14,712,401 compared to $13,339,375 in 2012.
Meanwhile, there were 32,124 calls for service in 2013 (down slightly from 32,706 in 2012) and 4,147 crimes reported (there were 4,301 in 2012).
Violent crime and property crime were both down overall, although there were some notable increases. Car theft and impaired driving both went up.
Looking ahead, the force faces a number of challenges in 2014.
In the message portion of the annual report, Grant recognized a need to balance costs with public safety.
Police board chairperson Mark Frison agrees costs are a concern.
Earlier this year, the Brandon Police Association’s 120 members signed a three-year contract that will see pay raises each year, for what Frison described as a "reasonable rate."
"But certainly we’ve seen lots of wage escalation across the country in policing services," Frison said. "That’s one of the things, I think, that all boards are going to have to tackle is making sure that we continue to be able to provide the level of service that we think communities need, and balancing that with the fiscal limitations of municipal, provincial and federal taxpayers."
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst, also a police board member, said an effective way to keep crime-fighting costs down is to tackle the causes of crime, as suggested during the public forum.
"We are always concerned about keeping the public safe and solving crime, and chasing bad guys," Decter Hirst said. "However, until we can actually address some of the root causes of crime in the city of Brandon, we’ll always be at risk."
That can be achieved, she said, by police working with other agencies such as the school division, justice system or charities.
Grant said homelessness is one issue he’d like to work with other agencies to address.
The BPS and the Brandon Police Association donated $1,498 to the Safe and Warm cold-weather shelter program.
Grant said officers often get calls about people loitering late at night who are really looking for a place to keep warm.
Officers will help them find emergency shelter or other places to stay, or they’re taken for medical attention if they need it.
But, if drunk, they may be detained until sober.
"It’s not the ideal circumstance, taking people to a correctional facility, but if they’re intoxicated to the point where we’re fearful that they can’t look after themselves, we’re really not left with a lot of options," Grant said.
Vandalism and graffiti are also areas the chief would like to tackle.
A move in that direction was recently taken with the introduction of the Graffiti Stop Program, which allows victims to get cleaning products at a discount.
The annual report is available online at police.brandon.ca/reports.
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