Foot Patrols Part III – The Pre-Community Policing Era

In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Winnipeg was at the very cutting edge of what later came to be known as Community Policing.  It was dubbed Operation Affirmative Action  (OAA).

OAA incorporated many of the principles and values first proposed by Sir Robert Peel when the London Metropolitan Police Force was formed in 1829.  OAA was an approach to policing that recognized the importance of forming partnerships between the police and the community at the local level.  Hence it was structured on a geographical basis.  It was an early  form of Zone Policing that was later popularized by many Canadian and American cities under the banner of ‘Community Policing’.

The main tenets of OAA were:

  • permanent long-term assignment of  patrol unit and beat personnel to specific geographical areas;
  • the use of problem solving as opposed to a strictly legal approach to dealing with issues at the community level;
  • being proactive in terms of developing a working partnership with residents and business people on the an officer’s assigned beat and patrol unit area as well as addressing local community issues in their early stages before they developed into full-blown community problems.

The concept was a sound one but ahead of its time.  The OAA approach represented a radical departure from the policing norms of the day in terms of values, goals and approaches.

Officers assigned to beat patrol received very limited training and for the most part continued doing beat patrol in the same manner as they had in the past.  The proactive side of the equation was not sufficiently explained to either beat personnel or members assigned to mobile patrol units.  The entire operation was administered by a Staff Sergeant and without any apparent support by the police executive of the day, many officers took and expressed the attitude “this too shall pass” and failed to buy into the initiative.

Lastly, the police executive of the day was not prepared to give up decision-making power or control to the officers working at the street level.  This attitude  prevented the a proactive approach central to the success of OAA from taking hold.

Like many good ideas OAA  suffered from insufficient executive commitment,  inadequate pre-implementation  training and a general lack of post-implementation  nurturing.

As a consequence OAA died on the vine.

Part IV will deal with foot patrols during the community policing era which was kick started with the publication of a discussion paper titled A Vision of the Future of Policing in Canada, published by the Solicitor General of Canada in 1990.

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