By Kevin Woodhouse
Commander Richard Thouin of Station 1 met with local media last week to introduce two new community relations officers Mélanie Allard and Giovanni Di Legge who will be working with J.P. Lévis, the veteran of the West Island precinct that covers Senneville, Baie d’Urfé, Beaconsfield, Kirkland and Ste. Anne de Bellevue.
Allard and Di Legge will be focusing their efforts on the 26 schools within the station’s territory as well as the area’s seniors residences. The officers want to work on prevention and mediation techniques and simply visit with people in the neighbourhood that takes place under the Coffee with a Cop program, where Allard and Di Legge meet and greet folks at local coffee shops.
“Our goal is to establish a link between people that helps them confide in an officer if they need help,” said Di Legge.
Thouin noted that despite having the largest territory on the island of Montreal, Station 1 ranked 32 out of 33 in terms of crime last year, residents need not be reluctant in calling 911 for help.
“There is a culture for citizens to call public security first for help,” Thouin said. “But when that call is taken, time is taken to complete the call’s triage before an action happens, which often includes calling 911 making for a delayed response.”
Another objective of reaching out into the schools and residences is to break the stigma of people witnessing unusual events or subjected to criminal activity occurring in their neighbourhood but are either too timid to call 911 or find their concerns too insignificant to bother police.
The visits have already borne results when Allard and Di Legge recently visited a retail store in Beaconsfield and the owner told the officers about a recent unpleasant experience with a client. The officers mediated the situation with the customer who apologized for his uncalled words and actions.
During a recent school visit, the officers resolved a bullying incident between two students by involving them, their parents and the school in resolving the issue. “We also engage in a follow-up process to see how all parties are doing,” Allard said.
Allard and Di Legge want to be proactive in the schools because “security is not always talked about in schools, but it is a very important issue for parents.
“Any school that says they have no problems are simply putting their heads in the sand,” said Di Legge.
The concept for bringing police, students and seniors closer together stems from internal studies noting that in surveys, communication between citizens and police was the highest priority on the list for area residents while that aspect of the job was dead last for officers.