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New West police chief looks ahead to a year of changes - and reflects on a challenging year

Strategic plan, operational review in the works
NWPD Chief Const. Dave Jansen says a number of reviews and planning processes could change policing in New West.

A complete review of the New Westminster Police Department is one of the tasks being undertaken in 2022.

A number of planning initiatives related to the NWPD and policing are currently underway or getting started this year. Work on the police department’s strategic plan was in the works prior to the pandemic.

“It probably worked out well – COVID hit and then all this discussion about reform came in,” Chief Const. Dave Jansen said in an interview with the Record. “What the board has really been working on is building some of that reform work into the strat plan.”

The police board is expected to receive the strategic plan in early 2022.

Some of the work being done by the NWPD will also dovetail with city-led initiatives such as a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (DEIAR) framework and the Peer Assisted Crisis Team (PACT) pilot project that’s being done with the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Although PACT is a city initiative, it’s intended to address some concerns about having police officers respond to mental health calls. And it’s an initiative that is “brilliant” and fully supported by New Westminster’s police chief, who says officers have been thrust into responding to mental health calls.

“I think are good at it, but that’s not their forte; that is not what the police were designed to do,” Jansen said. “I think that will be a great one.”

The New Westminster police board and perivale+taylor consulting are getting started on an operational review of the entire police department. It will include a review about alternate responses to mental health issues in other jurisdictions and will include a report about weapons and training.

“I have been here 30-plus years, and we have never done anything this extensive,” Jansen said. “They are looking at everything. So, how our structure is, our chain of command, our calls for service, our response times, what type of calls do we go to, what type of units we have, you name it – a whole review, so that is really exciting.”

Does the NWPD need more police officers? Does the police department have the best organizational structure? These are among the questions expected to be answered as part of the review, which should be complete by July.

In addition to work being undertaken by the police department and the city, the province is also working on a provincial review of policing.

“I have no doubt there will be change and I have no doubt that there will be substantial change in some areas,” Jansen said. “Obviously timing and all of that will be of interest.”

Jansen hopes some of the work that’s underway will result in changes this year, including the launch of the PACT pilot project and the development of a plan that respond to recommendations arising out of the operational review of the NWPD.

Police reform

A series of police-related deaths of Black and Indigenous people in the United States and Canada brought issues of use of force and institutionalized racism to the forefront in the summer of 2020, and spurred calls for defunding of police services.

In June 2020, the New Westminster police board passed a multi-faceted motion addressing issues such as mental health related calls, use of force and defunding of the police department.

New Westminster city council has also passed a number of recommendations related to police reform. It also made a submission to the province as part of its police review.

At a time when some people are calling for police reform and defunding the police, increases to the NWPD’s budget has raised concern among some city council members in each of the past two budget cycles.

In 2021, council was nearing the end of the budget process when it voted to send the NWPD’s proposed budget back to the police board and ask it to resubmit a budget that incorporated a 0% increase. The police board stood by its budget, and council ultimately supported the budget.

“Last year was really hard; hard because we are a small department and you have fears among your staff that jobs are going to be lost,” Jansen said. “If you are a constable on the road, you don’t understand all the ins and outs of every little thing in the budget. All you know is the city has questions about our budget; how is that going to impact us?”

As this year’s budget awaits final adoption, councillors Nadine Nakagawa and Mary Trentadue voted against giving three readings to the five-year-financial plan bylaw, having previously expressed concern that the budget includes an increase to the police department’s budget

Jansen said the police board and council are “aligned on many, many things” but it’s clear they need to meet earlier in the police board’s process. He said that will also provide council without a more thorough understand of the pressures faced by the NWPD and cuts the police board has made to the budget.

“It’s not just about money, it’s about reform,” he said. “So that is where almost all of our effort in 2021 as far as management has gone – to truly look at that and look at what we can do, what we think are the paths forward to achieve what both the board and council want to achieve.”

Other challenges

Jansen sat down with the Record to take a look back at 2021 and to discuss the police department’s plans for 2022.

COVID-19, extreme heat events and other climate-related emergencies impacted British Columbians in 2021 – and the NWPD was no different.

Jansen said officers responded to 38 sudden deaths during the summer’s heat dome, with the coroner eventually attributing 28 of those deaths to heat. He said some officers were shell-shocked at the sheer number of deaths they attended, where they sometimes had to wait for four to six hours with a deceased person until a coroner arrived.

Internally, the department faced health challenges of its own, with a couple of members being diagnosed with cancer and several members’ spouses battling cancer. The death of a member’s wife, the mother of a young child, was a heartbreaking loss felt by the entire department.

“What brings me pride, what brings me hope coming out of 2021 and going into 2022, is what I saw with the staff here and how they have come together and how they have stuck together, and how they stuck together while still doing a great job,” Jansen said. “I think they have provided a great level of service to this community. I think that we are lucky to have them. Just to know what’s been going on behind the scenes, it makes you even prouder.”

The NWPD took a hit on another front in 2021 when eight members departed left to take jobs with the new Surrey Police Department.

Jansen said that’s a substantial number in a department with an allotment of 114 officers. On top of that, he said the department had a lot of injuries and had a sizeable number of officers off on maternity leave.

According to Jansen, those staffing issues have highlighted the need to hire appropriately and to ensure staffing resources are available in case people are injured, are on maternity leave or temporarily leave the department to take secondments (temporary assignments) to regional, provincial or federal policing units, such as the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia (B.C.’s anti-gang police agency) or Lower Mainland Police Dog Service.

Jansen said the NWPD went on a “very aggressive hiring blitz” and hired 30 members in 2021.

“We have been really able to diversify our organization,” he said. “We have brought in some folks with great language skills, ethnicity. We have really been able to focus on mirroring the community we serve. That allowed us to do that really quick.”

Jansen said the new officers can slide into vacancies and provide the department with the ability to send people off to secondments. The department currently has 30 officers away on secondment.

“That’s not in addition – that’s to replace mostly retired or people who left,” he said. “But 30 new police officers have joined our organization in 2021.”

Noting that the department doesn’t “need any more bad mojo,” Jansen said the hirings were a boost to members’ morale and demonstrated that people do want to work for the NWPD.

Crime – up or down?

On the crime front, Jansen fully expects that New Westminster’s ranking on the “crime severity index” will rise in 2022 because of the five homicides that occurred in the city in 2021.

“Homicides are way up,” he said. “I can almost guarantee you are going to see a rise in that because of homicides.”

To date, charges have been laid in connection to three of the five homicides and the Integrated Homicide Investigation Unit continues to investigate the outstanding cases.

Jansen noted there has also been a “significant rise” in robberies, primarily been at the street level, rather than at institutions, such as banks. He said the NWPD is delving into that to determine if “it’s just a blip” or something else is at play.

A report to the police board indicates the 56 robberies in 2021 was a 81% increase over the 31 robberies in 2020.The six cases of aggravated assault represented a 200% increase over the two cases in 2020, while the 163 assault with a  weapon cases is up 33% from the 123 cases in 2020.

Many statistics, however, show that a number of crimes went down from 2020 to 2021. This includes a 15% drop in sexual assaults (from 67 to 57) and a 7% decrease in common assault (from 377 to 350).

Some property offenses increased from 2020 to 2021, including mischief over $5,000 (up from nine to 12 cases – 33%), mischief of $5,000 or under (up from 475 to 511 – 8%) and break and enters to business were (up from 205 to 217 – 6%).

However, many property offenses declined in 2021 from the previous year, including: 35% decrease in residential break and enters (from 91 to 59); a 19% drop in other break and enters (from 91 to 74), a 23% drop in theft of vehicles (from 167 to 129); and a 15% decrease in theft from vehicles (from 933 to 796).

Downtown issues

The NWPD heard from residents and businesses from Sapperton to Queensborough in 2021 about safety and livability issues, but those concerns were most evident in the downtown. At its first meeting of 2022, the police board received a numerous letters from businesses expressing concern about open drug use, vandalism, thefts, shoplifting, lack of a police presence, threats against people in the area, and the presence of needles, litter and human feces.

In 2020, city council approved a variety of actions to address concerns, such as working to provide toilet facilities and more waste collection. The NWPD assigned its crime reduction unit to focus all of its attention on the downtown in November and doubled the size of its vulnerable persons unit from one to two liaison officers.

Jansen believes a broader community conversation is required about response to issues like homelessness and drug addiction, which aren’t necessarily policing issues.

“We do have a role to play in some of those. But I think what we all need to talk about, and I probably need to do a better job, is talking to folks about ‘this is what our authorities are,’” he said. “I think people sometimes think that maybe we have more authority than we do.”

Jansen said officers are focused on arresting those who are trafficking and producing drugs – not arresting those who have addictions and are smoking up on the street or selling drugs to feed their addictions. He noted that the city has a safe consumption site where folks can go and use their drugs safely – but nowhere to get a safe supply of drugs.

“Do I have my officers go and take away drugs from someone who needs to go take care of their addiction problem? That’s not going to solve anything because they are going to have to get it – it’s like me taking away insulin from a diabetic. They need that to survive. They need that to get through,” he said. “We need a better system is what we need. We need safe supply. We need treatment on demand. That’s what we need.”

But Jansen said he understands the concerns of people who live downtown or have invested their earnings into a business in the area and are experiencing activities that are impacting their lives.

“I get it,” he said. “I guess what I want to say is we are not the only solution here, to look at us only. I will give the city 100% credit, they get it. They want to work on that. I know it’s frustrating because it’s not going to happen overnight and it’s not going to be a flick of our fingers and we are going to be able to provide everything to everyone. But I don’t think anyone can say that we don’t have a city leadership that isn’t looking at things from a compassionate perspective.”

Some downtown residents and businesses have also voiced concerns about long waits when they call the NWPD’s non-emergency line – another issue the department hopes to address this year.

Jansen said the NWPD has seen some “astronomically long” wait times for people calling its non-emergency line. In 2022, the police board and the NWPD will be considering what changes could be implemented to improve the response to people calling the non-emergency line.

According to the NWPD, there were several months in 2021 when the non-emergency line had 600 to 650 dropped calls per month. Whether those people called back again after hanging up or whether those calls were from the same people calling on different occasions isn’t known.

“I think that’s another barrier to us having a true reflection of what is going on in our community,” Jansen said. “I know too that some people are completely frustrated and say, ‘Oh, forget it. I’m not going to call.’”

 “That’s going to be something in 2022 that I think we are going to need to make some decisions on,” he said. “I just don’t think it’s right to expect people to sit on the phone for four-five or six hours to report something.”

Follow Theresa McManus on Twitter @TheresaMcManus