/Top cop wants stakeholders' help
OPP Staff Sgt. Richard Riopelle speaks about community mobilization at a recent Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce breakfast. DARREN LUM

Top cop wants stakeholders' help

By Darren Lum

Published Jan. 19 2017

We’re in this together and need each other to resolve challenges facing the community said Haliburton Highlands OPP detachment commander Richard Riopelle.

Riopelle spoke about the importance of implementing the OPP’s community mobilization strategy to a room of close to 30 people at the Haliburton Highlands Chamber Breakfast on Tuesday Jan. 10 at Molly’s Bistro in Minden.

He said his approach is fundamentally about bringing all of the stakeholders to the table to share information expertise and resources to develop approaches toward addressing problems and executing plans of action.

“We really want to build strong relationships with [the community] and then having ongoing situation tables for the various stakeholders to ensure that we’re addressing issues and being predictive in our analysis of what’s going to happen” he said.

Community mobilization is a strategy that combines four aspects: enforcement and crime suppression; community engagement and liaison; community mobilization and crime prevention; and community safety and consultation.

Riopelle took over from the previous detachment commander Chad Bark in the summer on Canada Day. Bark had been the commander since 2013.

Riopelle said including groups with specific expertise is a method to directly address a problem before the police have to be called. As a result of a partnership between the OPP and the Haliburton Highlands Health Services for example the mental health crisis response unit can connect people in need of  help to the right agencies.

“If we don’t tap into those resources and provide those supports through the proper agency then we end up with a situation where over and over and over we’re going to that call for that service because a person is in crisis but they’re not getting the support they need” Riopelle said.

Although receiving help from the crisis unit is voluntary he said more times than not it still serves a need.

This methodology can be applied with other groups and organizations.

“The overall intent of it is we work with the appropriate stakeholders” he said.

This includes the input from health care and social agencies.

Riopelle said property crimes affect the entire area under the detachment’s jurisdiction. More than 50 per cent of thefts involve unsecured property. Education can reduce this rate.

Executing the strategy is just in the infancy stages he said but he has already reached out to cottage associations to inform residents.

Many people are vulnerable to theft without realizing it he said. Through the cottage associations he has asked them to educate their members about not just securing their residences for long absences but also other buildings and other items attractive to thieves such as boats or motorized vehicles.

“If we can educate people better at securing your property and securing your vehicles that’s going to help deter the crime … people move on to other things if it is too difficult” Riopelle said.

One initiative of the police was the Lock It Or Lose It campaign which was a public awareness campaign reminding people to lock their vehicle doors. This also applies to residences.

Miner’s Bay Lodge owner Russ Wunker stood up near the end of the breakfast andshared an anecdote. Wunker said after repeated visits from a man who asked to purchase his property for a few million dollars he became concerned about the man’s mental health. Once he notified the detachment about him they informed him this man had a history of mental illness challenges. He said this was an instance where calling the police was helpful as it provided him an insight into this person’s mental state.

Chamber president Jerry Walker offered the support of the more than 200 members to this effort.

Riopelle said to understand the trends there must be a public willingness to contact police as data must be gathered to analyze. This is at the heart of any attempt to reduce crimes and provides people facing mental health issues the help  rather than dealing with the symptoms.

Without knowing the trends the police will not have an understanding of specific issues to tackle Riopelle said.

“The reality is we have to take ownership of the trends in our community” he said. “The best way to do that is [form] a group of all the stakeholders and try to deter these types of crimes.”