St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge: ‘an increasingly expensive police response is the wrong direction’


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It’s time to get serious and address the escalating challenges looming over the city’s downtown core, advises St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge.
After a couple of phone calls this week and an exchange of emails, Herridge took the time to present a case for taking a leadership role in confronting those challenges.
“We are seeing a trend where drug and property crime has been increasing,” notes Herridge. “If we do not get a handle on the issues we are currently facing, the big city issues that quickly arrived here three to four years ago are going to turn into the serious issues occurring in larger centres across our country.
“As I have mentioned many times in the past, St. Thomas is not unique to the social, health and crime problems being experienced, but we can be leaders in addressing these issues if we focus on where the challenges are and, right now, the challenges are predominantly in and around our downtown.”
Herridge starts with a resource primer that should be pinned within easy reach for downtown merchants and their staff.


He observes, “Given the ongoing issues business merchants and citizens of St. Thomas are experiencing on Talbot Street and the legal limitations we have in our toolbox to enforce some of the disruptive behaviours being exhibited, I encourage St. Thomas residents to call us when assistance is required.
“Please do not worry about bothering us as it is our job to keep this community safe. If I may suggest:
• If it is a garbage issue, call customer service at city hall. (519-631-1680 or email customerservice@stthomas.ca) https://www.stthomas.ca/living_here/customer_service
• if it is a behaviour issue, call the police and/or CMHA. (519-631-1224/911 or CMHA Elgin: 519-633-1781) https://www.cmhaelgin.ca/
• if it is an addictions issue call the police and/or Addictions Services Thames Valley (519-673-3242) http://adstv.on.ca/
• if it is a medical problem call 911 or STEGH.
• If we need support from other partners, we will call them.
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“If a criminal charge is viable,” continues Herridge, “we will lay it and put the onus on the court system as well. Our goal is to prevent crime, prosecute crime and bring people before the courts.
“The problem is that the determined impact of the court system has become limited and diminishing, resulting in the criminal population knowing full well that they will be released.
“That gives you circular justice when there’s a lack of deterrence in the criminal justice system. When there’s no long-term treatment, we end up dealing with the same people repeatedly.”
Herridge gives the frustrating example of one prolific offender last year who was charged with 108 counts of breach of release conditions.
Of those 108 charges laid:
• 3 received a conviction
• 47 were withdrawn
• 58 are still before the courts
So, what is needed to assist the police service?
“We need regional rehabilitation centres, therapeutic courts, court-ordered treatment, readily available wraparound services, street health expert teams and housing, all supported by the police for public safety purposes.”
Herridge suggests the reverse is happening where policing has become the catch-all for a multitude of situations.

“All of these leaders recognize the challenges we are facing and the need for improved healthcare infrastructure. These issues are complex, challenging, and delicate.”

“The challenge now,” explains Herridge, “is with the amount of time it will take to establish the necessary supports.
“We have fallen behind on social determinants of health supports and the outcome is the issues we are currently facing result in an increasingly expensive police response which is the wrong direction, in my respectful opinion.”
Keep in mind that observation is coming from a police chief.
However, what is to be done in the meantime?
Says Herridge, “Mayor Joe Preston, city council, and city manager Wendell Graves have identified an excellent housing plan which cannot come fast enough in St. Thomas.
“However, the crucial wraparound services will be required in order for housing to be a success.
“Behind the scenes, I have been working with Mayor Preston, MPP Jeff Yurek, members of our Police Services Board and others to bring these issues to the forefront so change can occur.

“We are stretched too thin – I am robbing from Peter to pay Paul to address drugs and property crime while sacrificing uniform general patrol presence on our city streets and in our neighbourhoods, where we are also required.”

“All of these leaders recognize the challenges we are facing and the need for improved healthcare infrastructure. These issues are complex, challenging, and delicate.”
Herridge continues, “In policing, as I often see on social media, attempting to balance the needs of everyone clashes way too often and officers are caught in the middle, trying to show compassion toward vulnerable persons in crisis while remaining sensitive to victims of crime.
“Sometimes, it is a no-win situation.”
To their community partners, Herridge brings it down to a personal level.
“I certainly appreciate your challenges as well and I know everyone is doing their best. We all need to own this problem 24/7 – 365 in order to clean up the downtown core and enhance the well-being of our city.
“I am constantly asking for more staff to address a significant increase in calls for service due to health-related issues, which has resulted in a collateral property/drug crime fallout.

“Even though these issues are locally occurring, the health umbrella is owned by the provincial government and local taxpayers should not carry the burden of paying police officers to be healthcare workers.”

“We are stretched too thin – I am robbing from Peter to pay Paul to address drugs and property crime while sacrificing uniform general patrol presence on our city streets and in our neighbourhoods, where we are also required.
“I certainly appreciate our friends in the health sector are overwhelmed as well. However, STPS officers are trying to balance two jobs: policing and social work, faced with solving a variety of health-related community problems at the frontline while trying to reduce crime.
“We need to get back to police work and provide the professional health experts with the vital resources they need to do their jobs so our vulnerable citizens receive the crucial support they need, enhance the well-being of our downtown and reduce crime victimization.”
Herridge continues, “A number of people have addiction and substance use disorders in our community. They’re not criminals, and they shouldn’t be treated like criminals. We desperately need to improve our health care infrastructure.”
Here’s another observation you may not necessarily anticipate from a police chief.
“As passionate as I am about policing and the city of St. Thomas,” confides Herridge, “I actually prefer to avoid increasing police resources because of social/health-related problems.
“Even though these issues are locally occurring, the health umbrella is owned by the provincial government and local taxpayers should not carry the burden of paying police officers to be healthcare workers.
“We need to move this responsibility away from policing and into the hands of healthcare professionals so we can return to actual policing and slowdown the exponentially increasing cost of our profession.”
Pivoting his thoughts to MPP Jeff Yurek, the city’s police chief observes, “thanks to you and your government for the commitment of millions of dollars in the recent budget to assist Ontarians (and first responders) who are in crisis.
“There is hope when this degree of commitment and leadership is being shown at the provincial level. As mentioned on social media recently, I also appreciate the significant assistance you have provided with creating and maintaining our Mobile Outreach Support Team.”
You can read more on the announcement from the province on this crisis intervention team at https://ianscityscope.com/2019/05/25/provincial-dollars-to-support-st-thomas-crisis-intervention-team-because-mental-health-is-truly-a-community-issue/
“Our community is facing increasing social-related issues resulting in a rise in crime and a feeling of being unsafe in our downtown. We immediately need a ‘boots on the ground’ professional health team (mental health, medical, addictions, housing, etc.) in our downtown in partnership with STPS who will assist when public safety is a concern. “The police require a team of experts so we can triage these health-related calls and the appropriate assistance/supports can be provided.

Yvonne Mawson

St. Thomas Police Service crisis support worker Yvonne Mawson with Insp. Hank Zehr.

“Our officers are policing experts dealing with health-related issues while having minimal training in these areas. It is a disservice to those who we serve and a challenge to the officers as well. I equate this to sending health experts to do police work.”
Herridge explains the service has a pair of CMHA clinicians and an officer on their MOST Team who can assist.
“However, our city requires additional assistance at the street level from CMHA, Addiction Services of Thames Valley and others. Hopefully, the Street Outreach Team request can be expedited along with ensuring our Civil Remedies grant request for a third mental health clinician is approved.”
Herridge notes the additional resources will ensure there is “an increased support presence on the street providing a dedicated proactive response versus always responding after the fact.”
Herridge concludes with a personal note to the women and men of the St. Thomas Police Service.
“Keep up the excellent work! You have been tasked with some of the greatest challenges ever faced by members of the St. Thomas Police Service, dealing with increased social challenges and responsibilities, a significant climb in calls for service and escalating property crime while doing this during a worldwide pandemic.
“I am very proud of you and I know our community is as well.
“To our proud community; the future of our city belongs to us. It is time to unite and become one voice and create a well-being model for others to envy!”
MIND WHERE YOU SIT
The city unveils Railway City Transit on Monday and users will get the opportunity to partake of the revamped transit system free of charge for the next month.
That conceivably could lead to an increase in passengers over the coming weeks. For much of the pandemic, buses have been operating with limited seating – seats blocked off to maintain social distancing – and we talked this week with Justin Lawrence, director of environmental services, to see if that will remain in effect.Railway City Transit logo

“We’re returning to full density,” noted Lawrence. “What the guideline is masks are mandatory and spacing where possible.
“In most cases, at most times, on most buses, there is plenty of room to space out but it is possible for people to sit one seat behind each other if the bus is full.”
So, given the compact interiors of the buses which have no rear exit door, social distancing may be impossible should a bus be near or at capacity.
Remember, the idea over the next month is to attract as many people to transit as possible so load factors could increase substantially.
Not to worry, responds Lawrence.
“The provincial guidelines on transit don’t include any guidelines on spacing and density. In fact, most transit authorities never changed that.”

“It is possible to go within the six feet (of distancing) as long as you’re masked, but only when absolutely necessary. Most times people will wear a mask on the bus and they won’t be within that distance as much as possible.”

Well, let’s just quantify that. A good number of the province’s transit systems operate full-size buses with two doors.
Take London Transit, for instance, which noted early on in the pandemic, “In order to maintain a one-direction flow, passengers are required to enter through the front door and exit through the back door.”
Not possible on St. Thomas buses.
And, if you have visited Memorial Arena over the past couple of weeks to get your coronavirus jab, the layout on the floor is all about one-direction flow.
Lawrence indicated for added protection, they have built plexiglass shields around the drivers.
He stressed, “It is possible to go within the six feet (of distancing) as long as you’re masked, but only when absolutely necessary.
“Most times people will wear a mask on the bus and they won’t be within that distance as much as possible.”
There’s still that matter of passengers entering and exiting through the same door. Why are there strict limits on the number of people on the ice at the Joe Thornton Community Centre for public skating to maintain social distancing but not the same regard on city buses?
And, all of this at a time when our medical officer of health, Dr. Joyce Lock is urging people to wear masks, social distance and avoid congregating indoors in close quarters.
AND THE WINNER IS . . .
It’s award season and for the second time in a year, SupportiveLiving.Ca has walked away with – in their minds anyway – a major award of excellence.
To refresh your memory, they are the owner of Walnut Manor here in St. Thomas and other supportive living facilities in southern Ontario we’ve written about over the past seven years.
This time they are the winner in the Housing Support Service of the Year 2020-21 category as presented by Corporate LiveWire, based out of Birmingham, England.
According to their website, “The Corporate LiveWire platform provides business professionals and individuals in the corporate sector with information on the latest news and developments from around the globe.”
Not sure if SupportiveLiving.Ca won for their luxurious homes, their live pest act or the mouth-watering catering.
In his acceptance speech, founder and president of SupportiveLiving.ca, Vishal Chityal (you may better remember him as Charlie Duke), commented: “I am truly honoured and humbled that in a time where the Coronavirus pandemic has created many challenges within the housing industry, we have the opportunity to provide safe and affordable housing in communities across Ontario and to see that our diligence has not gone unnoticed.”SupportiveLiving.ca 2020-21 award

The Corporate LiveWire Prestige Awards recognize businesses that have proven to be the best in their industry over the past 12 months. With a readership of over 500,000 subscribers across their print and online formats in Canada, their judging panel reviews nominees based on areas of service excellence, quality of service provided, innovative practices, values, ethical or sustainable methods of working as well as consistency in performance.
Not sure the judging panel visited some of the SupportiveLiving.ca facilities to view this excellence, quality of service or ethical values at play.
Or, if Corporate LiveWire is aware of Niagara Centre NDP MPP Jeff Burch’s bill, Protecting Vulnerable Persons in Supportive Living Accommodation Act, 2020, which passed unanimously at second reading in the Ontario Legislature on Nov. 2 of last year.
The inspiration for the bill is none other than the award-winning Vishal Chityal.
Yes, Vishal, your diligence has not gone unnoticed.
Related post:

https://ianscityscope.com/2019/12/28/an-award-winning-team-what-an-insult-to-walnut-manor-residents/
THE READER’S WRITE
On last week’s item dealing with the Alma College Square development, Dave Mathers is wowed by the reactions of two members of council.
“It’s bad enough that developers have to fight city hall but now they have to fight city council as well?
“The mayor says we need housing, a developer comes in, creates that very housing and then the vocal minority jumps in, the very same minority that didn’t want the property developed in the first place.
“Wow.”

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.

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