Police arming residents with information on emerging crime patterns
Glen Geeza, like many of his neighbours, was surprised to learn that his neighbourhood has been a hotspot for break and enters over the past month.
The 10-year resident of Southview Drive isn't a stranger to being the victim of theft. Two years ago, his house was broken into while he was in southern Ontario. Thieves used a pry bar to gain entrance to his house through the back door. They stole a lot of electronics, including televisions and computers, pretty much whatever they could carry.
“Criminals are lazy,” he said. “They'll take only what they can carry.”
He said that experience was a wake-up call, and showed just how vulnerable people are and to what lengths criminals will go to get what they want.
Since then, he has taken step to make his house less of a target for would-be thieves. He's increased the lighting and makse sure his neighbours are aware of when he is leaving town for an extended period of time, so that they can help make the house look like someone is home when really there isn't.
That is exactly what Greater Sudbury Police Service likes to see, said Const. Ken Birtch, of the Community Response Unit. He joined auxiliary officers Nov. 7 during the Notice of Community Crime (NOCC) initiative to canvass Zone 60, which includes Southview Drive, an area of the city that has seen 21 break and enters since Oct. 8, 13 cases of mischief and 18 thefts from vehicles in the same time frame.
Last year, over the same time frame, that area of the city had 10 break and enters, six cases of mischief and two thefts from vehicles.
Zone 60 isn't usually a hotspot for break and enters, which is why this was the first time auxiliary officers visited the area since NOCC's inception in Sudbury, Birtch said. Police have their ideas about why there is an increase in the number of break and enters, which they didn't want to get into, but arming residents with information on what's happening in their neighbourhood and how to prevent themselves from becoming victims will help bring down those numbers.
“There are very simple things that people wouldn't necessarily think about,” he said.
Plenty of people put their lights on timers, but they might not think about having their neighbours pick up their mail for them while they are on vacation, or keeping trees and shrubs in their yards trimmed to keep doors and windows visible to others on the street. These are small things that might make a burglar think twice about trying to break into a home, Birtch said.
The whole idea is to arm people with that knowledge, and “hopefully they put it into action,” he said.
Greater Sudbury Police Service has been using the NOCC program since December 2011. Every week, auxiliary officers visit different zones throughout the city to make residents aware of any crimes that may be taking place.
Crimes are tracked through trained police personnel, who enter the information into a database. They are able to use this information to determine any emerging crime patterns. Once a pattern emerges, police will canvass, going house to house informating residents of the crime that has been plaguing the area.
At first, the NOCC program was held irregularly, but it became a weekly initiative in May.
So far, it has mostly been met with enthusiasm, although there is the odd resident who doesn't want to talk to the police for whatever reason, Birtch said. Police will even engage passersby, people who are walking down the sidewalk, especially those with dogs.
“Dog owners make excellent witnesses, because they're out multiple times during the day,” he said.
And, talking to residents is also a good way for police to gain access to information they may not have been aware of, he said. For example, during the Nov. 7 initiative, one resident made auxiliary officers aware of some youth who had been out on the streets in the early morning hours.
In Canada, the idea of NOCC started in Edmonton, Alta, where police focused their attention on a limited area over a six-month time frame. It had a reported 85-per-cent reduction in break and enters, Birtch said.
“I can't say that we have taken the effort to measure the success, because I have faith that it works,” Birtch said. “How can a program be bad if it's providing awareness and information about your community. If people start to pay more attention and make sure their doors are locked, then it's a success.”
Auxiliary officers can cover between 200 and 250 houses a night, depending on how talkative the residents are. Officers won't leave a home until the resident is satisfied with the information they have received.
This NOCC process didn't start in Edmonton, either. Edmonton police adapted the program from the United Kingdom, a practise that is common among police services across the entire, Birtch said.
He said he has about 33 different police services he is constantly looking at for ideas, and picks the “golden nuggets” to bring to Sudbury.
Birtch also credited Police Chief Frank Elsner for allowing the police service to bring these programs to Sudbury and trusting the officers to implement them.
“In my 42 years of policing, I've never seen anyone who has impressed me as much,” Birtch said. “He's honest, he's smart and he's grounded as a cop. He allows us to do stuff like this.”
Making the community more aware of what's happening and using the public as a resource to help prevent crime from happening in the first place continues to be a major part of the new policing model, Birtch said.
Greater Sudbury Police Service is highlighting the NOCC initiative as part of Crime Prevention Week, which runs from Nov. 4-10.