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New police unit looks to strengthen community connections

The North Bay Police Service (NBPS) will be rolling out a new unit dedicated to understanding and addressing the social issues of the community.

The Community Resource Team was announced at Tuesday’s Police Services Board Meeting, with Deputy Chief Michael Daze explaining the need for it in the city.

“There’s crime in the criminal code, and there are issues that are more along social disorder that have complex circumstances with poverty, mental health and addictions,” Daze explained to the board.

The Community Resource Team will consist of eight officers who are dedicated to addressing the social issues that lead to an uptick in calls in cases where addiction, mental health and poverty are a factor.

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Chief Scott Tod told the media following the board meeting that a majority of the calls police receive daily involve social issues.

“70 percent of our calls for service are for social disorder calls, 28 percent are for crime-related. We can greatly reduce that 70 percent number of calls by having a better relationship between the public and the police,” Tod said.

Last week, homelessness in the downtown core drew attention after a presentation to North Bay city council from two business owners outlined their concerns and run-ins with homeless people in the area.

“We attend calls for service downtown at least seven times a day,” Tod acknowledged. “We’re there right now, but now we want officers on the street to talk to people, meet with the business owners regularly, meet with the community groups, work collaboratively together with all our social agencies to deal with the social issues we have across North Bay.”

The Community Resource Team has been in the works for two years, with the NBPS getting the final amount of funding needed to staff eight officers to the unit. Currently, one officer has been trained for their role, who will then train the new members of the unit when they join in the new year.

During his rundown to the Police Services Board, Michael Daze said that the unit will serve as another social resource for those who are on the street.

“We have to recognize that our interactions with people who need help is sometimes a repetitive process. So for us to engage and be there, will be a resource for them,” he said.

With that in mind, Chief Tod says that making arrests will not be the priority of the Community Resource Team.

“Most of the social disorder issues are in regards to addictions, mental health, poverty, homelessness and even education comes in with that sometimes. Those aren’t things that aren’t solved by an arrest, those are things that call for solution through collaborative approaches with the social agencies in town,” he said.

Following the announcement of the unit, Mayor Al McDonald said that he believes that it will be “well-received” by the community.

“There’s no question our community has a lot of questions around mental health addictions and homelessness,” McDonald said during the meeting. “I think this new project is timely and it really shows that our police service is in tune with the community’s concern. We recognize the opioid crisis is across the country not just North Bay. Our citizens aren’t as used to the challenges of the opioid crisis.”

The Community Resource Team will not be dedicated solely to the downtown, as it will look to build its connections around the city. The unit will also have a presence in Callander.

It will begin its operation in 2021.

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