Changes are coming to the way law enforcement works in the Longueuil agglomeration.
The Quebec government is giving $3.6 million to train a group of officers in social policing.
“We’ll see what comes of it after three years,” said Geneviève Guilbault, deputy premier and minister of public security, during a press conference where the project was announced.
“This is a financing for three years.”
There’ll be an annual evaluation.
This new team, Réseau d’Entraide Sociale et Organisationnelle (RESO) is the most recent initiative in the Quebec government’s push to change policing. In the March provincial budget, the government pledged $25 million over three years for reforms.
It all comes in the wake of numerous calls to defund police following several incidents of violent interactions between police and people experiencing mental illness, or racial and social profiling.
Some interventions led to death, such as that of Nicholas Gibbs in NDG in the summer of 2018. His family said the man was experiencing mental distress when he was shot by police.
“Those are social issues that we have to address, that police officers have to address on a daily basis,” said Guilbault, “but not with all the tools and not in a proper way.”
The hand-picked officers for the pilot project will get five weeks training this fall, according to Longueuil police director Fady Dagher.
“During five weeks they’re going to be doing the project immersion, which is no uniform, no weapon,” he said at the press conference, “but after that they’re going to be fully dressed in the community. Twenty-four police officers will start.”
According to him, the goal over the next decade is to have up to half the department trained this way.
“It has to become the mentality in the police department,” the director insisted.
Psychosocial service workers will also be available to help the officers. Dagher pointed out these community partners aren’t always available, for example overnight.
“That’s why we have to develop the mentality in the police officers to be able to do the work,” he explained.
The ministry of health and social service will make a recurring investment of $300,000 to support that component.
Fo Niemi, executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations, (CRARR), a group that works with racialized communities said the initiative is promising, but wonders how much community groups will be involved.
“Because community-based policing relies on community participation,” he pointed out.
Guilbault hopes the new approach could serve as a model for other police services in the province, and even the country.