With their phone numbers out there and their BlackBerrys always in their hands, Toronto’s Neighbourhood Police Team members are just a call or a text away. Their job is to listen to what’s worrying people who live in some of the city’s toughest areas, calm their fears and help them act to make things better. But is it working?
With help of a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, researchers from Humber College are trying to answer that question — and at the same time, move Toronto into an era of “evidence-based policing.”
“The Toronto police are really under pressure to look at efficiencies and economies but there is a real commitment to not cutting the wrong things,” said Jeanine Webber, associate dean of the School of Social and Community Services at Humber College in Toronto. “They understand there may be costs to this program that in the long term may pay off and they need to be conscious of that.”
Webber is director of a Community and College Social Innovation Fund project, using a grant from SSHRC to assess the impact of the Toronto Police Service’s Neighbourhood Policing Program. The two year project will conduct a far-reaching evaluation of how effective the neighbourhood officers have been toward their goals of reducing crime, improving relations between Toronto police and the community, and making residents feel safer in their neighbourhoods.
Neighbourhood police were introduced in 2013, in response to poor community-police relations. The officers are directly accessible, their cell phone numbers easily available. They put their time into getting to know people, listening, and — if possible — dealing with issues before they become crimes, or picking up intelligence on criminal activity.
There is a well-established relationship between Toronto police and Humber College, which offers a police foundations diploma, a bachelor of applied arts in criminal justice and a police leadership program, the last designed for officers who do not have college or university degrees. The longstanding partnership between Toronto police and Humber was why the Service earlier turned to Webber and her team to do an evaluation of neighbourhood policing, but it was a limited pilot study, done only in English and excluding youth, a population police have particular difficulties with.
The SSHRC Social Innovation grant has made it possible to expand the pilot, assessing 44 months of operation, all 17 neighbourhood teams instead of just eight, adding focus groups and surveys in a variety of languages and including youth from 14 to 18. It should produce a much more detailed picture of the impact of the program. “We have trends that indicate neighbourhood policing is meeting its goals,” said Webber, “But I want to be able to collect data from a wider group to make sure it is.”
The project is a good opportunity for several Humber students interested in aspects of policing to learn more about the topic and about research skills, who will be involved in collecting and analysing data. The project coordinator is a Humber graduate who just earned an MA in criminal justice.