Changing the face of policing through public engagement
Our complex, diverse, and vibrant communities have an important partner in the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) in creating the kind of space we desire.
For Superintendent Trent Forsberg and Sgt. Andrew Weaver, the vehicle for change is the return of the beat patrol: officers on foot or bicycle patrolling a smaller geographical area and spending more time connecting with community members.
Forsberg and Weaver say there will always be a need for officers in vehicles who respond to 911 calls and emergency situations. There will always be arrests. The difference is that the beat patrol creates opportunities to be proactive. “We have the freedom to be creative in trying to solve problems,” says Weaver.
Forsberg is a 32-year veteran in the force. He is thrilled to play a role in supporting an already impressively mobilized community.
He says, “Policing has changed. The idea of ‘law enforcement’ is wrong.” Forsberg stresses public safety and public engagement. He believes that “when people within the neighbourhood take back and utilize public space, crime and disorder reduce. Come together as a community, and you’ll be safe. None of us is as strong as all of us.”
The beat patrol model is simple. Forsberg explains, “Police provide a visible presence initially.” Gradually, businesses and residents become more unified and confident about occupying public space. For example, “If all people use a park, drug dealers aren’t as comfortable being there. If residents don’t go possess space, then someone else does.” To make changes, he says, “You don’t have to fight anybody. You just have to be there.”
Over time, the beat patrol model sees the eventual reduction of police presence. Communities reclaim space and visible police presence reduces.
The beat patrol model focuses on all community members. That includes creating safe spaces for vulnerable people. For example, in tent cities, “We are not there to hurt or try to lock them up, but to keep them safe.” Although tent cities create shelter for the homeless, they also attract exploitative criminal elements.
Weaver has a team of six constables who patrol the beat in pairs. On foot year-round or with bicycles in the summer, they talk to people from all walks of life. “I like meeting people and finding out their story,” he explains. “Everyone has a turning point in their life.” Weaver says he believes that if he can learn a person’s story, he can help guide them in a better direction. “We try to find different approaches to break whatever cycle they’re in. We are breaking the history of crime and disorder, really.”
Beat constables sometimes partner with organizations to create structured events, like Coffee with Cops at The Carrot Coffeehouse, or safety presentations for children at the Green Shack. These events are a way to build positive interactions with the police. “Our role,” says Weaver, “is not to dominate. We don’t want to be the driving force of change. We want it to be sustainable in the community. We’ll support from below, but we shouldn’t drive the train.” He encourages our communities, saying, “Everybody you need is in this area. Tap that resource, and you will never have a human resource issue.”
Both Forsberg and Weaver advise, “Get to know your neighbours.”
“Go back to old values,” says Weaver. Look at the police as a resource. Ideally, all members of the community who see an EPS officer will feel protected and think, “Hey, there’s Trent, [or Andrew, etc].”
Superintendent Trent Forsberg
Sgt. Andrew Weaver, beats team 1
Featured Image: Sgt. Andrew Weaver wants you to say “hello” when you see him or his constables “walking the beat.” | Tekla Luchenski