The Importance of Community Policing in Canada

Toronto community police on bicycles
Toronto community police on bicycles

For over 50 years, Canada has celebrated National Police Week as a way for police to increase awareness and connect with the communities they serve. Starting May 9th, 2021, this year’s National Police Week theme is working together to keep our communities safe. Particularly during the last year, public safety has proven to be a collaborative effort within police agencies and between police services, first responders, as well as social and community organizations. We honour police officers across Canada and celebrate their continued contributions, which have often been the gateway to many community supports.

As the law enforcement landscape evolves, community policing in Canada continues to be a vital philosophy now and in the future.

Wilfrid Laurier University’s online degree programs prepare current and future public safety leaders by developing expertise in critical thinking, problem-solving, and effective communication. Coursework taught by experienced professionals equips students to better understand the shifting dynamics of how to keep communities safe and strong through community policing.

What Is Community Policing?

The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) presents a community policing definition that integrates three essential parts:

  • Partnerships in the community
  • Problem-solving approaches
  • Supportive organizational structure

Community policing is a shift from traditional policing and focuses on building trust and long-term relationships in the community with the goal of reducing crime. It moves from a punitive focus to one based on prevention through mutual respect.

A dedicated community police organization fosters a sense of safety for residents and also supports the ultimate goals of policing. According to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP), the “cornerstones” of the profession are “trust, accountability, and support of the community.”

Some key aspects of community policing in Canada include:

  • Consultative approaches
  • Proactive strategies
  • Alleviation of fears
  • Flattened administration
  • Emphasis on responsibility

More simply, community policing is about integrating police agencies more closely with the communities they serve. The design gives residents and neighbourhood groups a seat at the table and collaborates with partners such as nonprofits and community health centres.

Implementing principles of community policing also involves evolving changes in police agencies and practices.

For example, the Toronto Police Services Board recently adopted an extensive series of initiatives to increase accountability and clear communication in the community. The plan includes components such as improving relationships with marginalized communities and developing new responses for interactions related to mental illness. Since leadership is crucial to the success of the new measures, the Board expressed a public commitment to transparency in the process of hiring a new police chief.

How Has Community Policing Developed?

Modern community policing has its roots in a set of principles put forth by Sir Robert Peel, the UK Prime Minister who created London’s Metropolitan Police in 1822. These timeless ideals summarize the essential components for police success to prevent crime and maintain order. The practice of community policing has been incorporated into Canadian law enforcement since the 1990s. Due to the intrinsic and evolving nature of community policing, exact practices may vary by agency in an effort to best serve and partner with each unique community.

What Is the Impact of Community Policing?

Approximately three-fourths of Canadians hold a positive view of the police, according to a recent study reported by the Angus Reid Institute. The numbers vary, though, across geographic and demographic lines. For example, younger age groups tend to have a less positive opinion than older groups. Similarly, visible minorities or Indigenous respondents report feeling less secure than Caucasians around police officers.

Community-based policing enhances public trust by promoting a collaborative, community-centric approach to crime prevention and enables community participation in developing solutions to improve local issues that affect the quality of life within the community.

For example, in community policing, individual officers are encouraged to engage in neighbourhood extracurriculars, particularly those involving at-risk youth. As residents and officers interact outside the context of distress or arrest, they establish a baseline of trust.

The implementation of community-based policing approaches continues to develop across Canada, leading to growing community partnerships and creative problem-solving solutions. Recent world-changing events give us context for application.

Community Policing and Racial Equity

Across the world, including Canada, the death of George Floyd in 2020 has raised awareness of racial inequities and has brought about passionate calls for new ways of policing. While police agencies grapple with policies related to arrest and use of force, the practice of community policing takes a proactive, rather than reactive, approach.

In a CBC report in June 2020, police chiefs from Halifax, Ottawa, and Peel Region offered perspectives on needed change moving forward to assure racial equity. Discussion included treating community members with respect and building trust in communities—a foundational aspect of community policing.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly’s comments in the interview advocated for priority on service, where police agencies take a proactive approach in preventing crime, rather than a mindset of reactive suspicion. He said there are many models of “integrated service delivery” across Canada working in the “pre-criminal space,” including programs in some of the most difficult communities.

Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah has been recognized for his initiative to “modernize traditional community policing.” In the CBC interview, he explained that police officers today must often address social issues such as mental health and addictions. He said it is “paramount” to look for opportunities to orient and connect people to services and that coordination can “mitigate risk.”

Community Policing Supports Canadian Communities in Navigating the Pandemic

Also in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, Canadian police leaders advocated for a refocus on community policing principles. Since community policing anticipates and adapts to the needs of communities, the practice is vital for emergency response.

In response to the World Health Organization’s pandemic declaration in March 2020, Adam Palmer, President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) issued a statement. In it, Palmer urged law enforcement leaders to proactively prepare for the crisis. “We can expect our communities to turn to us for guidance and support during this pandemic,” Palmer said.

Over the last year, police agencies have continued to develop innovative new responses amid the unfolding challenges. Officers, along with community members, volunteers, medical professionals, and frontline workers have pulled together to support communities during one of the most difficult periods in recent history.

For example, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has recently expanded mental health services for crisis situations. Dedicated mental health workers are assigned to call centres working in cooperation with police officers. Similarly, the Thunder Bay Police Service in Ontario has implemented more intentional integration with mental health services such as social work agencies.

Calming fears has been another important aspect of community policing during this crisis. With emergency stay-at-home orders recently announced in Ontario, police have responded to say they will focus on community education related to their designated powers. Joe Couto, representing the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, explained that actions will distinguish this as a “health issue.”

As community police officers have served on the front lines of the pandemic, individuals and agencies continue to adapt to an ever-changing context with complex dimensions.

How Do Laurier Programs Equip Community Police?

Whether you’re a long-term law enforcement professional or just getting started on a policing career path, Laurier’s online degree programs prepare you for the evolving future of policing in Canada.

For current and retired police officers, the Honours BA in Policing equips you for leadership roles. Through coursework, you’ll be guided by experienced police officers in how to evaluate and apply different perspectives.

If you’re eager to enter the field of policing for the first time, the Combined Honours BA in Criminology and Policing requires no prior experience. As you learn from real-world professionals, you’ll build the skills and knowledge to be career-ready in today’s law enforcement field.

Laurier’s online programs are convenient, relevant, and focused. You can earn your credentials while working full-time, from anywhere in the country. In each program, you’ll find:

  • Courses designed by professionals and academic leaders with years of field experience
  • A flexible 100% online format
  • Asynchronous courses that allow you to follow your own schedule
  • Personalized support from success advisors

What Is Your Future in Policing?

Wilfrid Laurier University joins the CACP in honouring the service of Canadian police officers and their dedication to supporting the communities they serve. Through our partnerships with law enforcement across Canada, we are pleased to be part of the continuing education of our nation’s community police.

Connect with an advisor to take the next step of studying at Laurier.