ELS emerged from the first Commitment to Action community engagement session in September 2020 where Kari Thomason, an Indigenous community advocate, suggested that recruits would benefit from learning first-hand about the work she does with at-risk individuals on the streets.
The idea of a community practicum placement to better understand social issues was a common suggestion at the engagement sessions, and with a high number of calls for service related to social issues such as mental health, addictions, poverty and houselessness – it became clear that this kind of training would help prepare recruits for the frontlines of policing.
With the support of EPS Chief’s Committee, Sergeant Jacqueline Buchanan with the EPS Community Relations Section designed a pilot project to provide recruit constables with opportunities to get hands-on experience at a social agency preferably within their assigned patrol divisions.
“ELS has been designed to provide recruits with the ability to practice the skills they have learned throughout the Community Policing module of their training while building relationships with community stakeholders,” said Sergeant Buchanan.
“I see tremendous value in helping our recruits build authentic, meaningful and lasting relationships with our community partners that are more than just transactional. A genuine collaboration where we are working together to support the clients we serve will yield a better overall outcome for everyone.”
Recruits were able to choose their placement at one of eight local agencies including Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society, CHEW Project, Mustard Seed Society, and the Somali Canadian Women and Children Association. The recruits were then assigned to shifts where they would job shadow agency staff to learn about their programs, assist with serving agency clientele, and complete tasks assigned to them.
These tasks ranged from serving hot lunches to community members, training with overdose medications, checking on the welfare of vulnerable individuals, de-escalating situations, finding emergency clothing for those in need, to helping with facility maintenance.
During this time, recruits learned more about the agencies, and how these agencies could work with police to divert individuals out of the criminal justice system and into these support services.
More importantly, the recruits gained a greater understanding of the root causes of trauma that impacted crime, and a deeper empathy for those individuals struggling in those circumstances. The experience also left them with a desire to improve those circumstances.
Recruit Training Class 151 was the first to participate in the pilot project on October 19 and 20, 2021, and afterwards the 28 recruit constables reported how valuable the experience was to their understanding of community policing.
“I saw the pain and struggle of people living rough and addicted to opioids, and I felt empathy towards them and their dire situation,” said one recruit who assisted at the Mustard Seed Society. “I was completely aware of the opioid crisis, the increase in houselessness and the people struggling to find help for mental health issues, but I had only viewed it through the lens of a future police officer.”
The recruit added, “We are all working towards solving the issues in the downtown core, yet there is the same ‘us versus them’ mentality. I do not think we see these issues because of the mistrust in our institution. The relationship needs to be mended and it could not be more obvious. I want to help and I want them to know that I am not the enemy. It is not ‘us versus them,’ we are all here to serve members of the community.”
Likewise, the social agencies also shared positive feedback and gratitude for the recruits’ participation, and provided them with a list of agency contacts who would support them once on the street.
Staff at the Somali Canadian Women and Children Association said, “Your efforts embody the spirit of what it means to ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’ Thank you so much for your selflessness and dedication you showed while you were with us.”
Similar comments were offered by Project CHEW staff, “These recruits understand we are all humans. In this short time, they found new ways to see things. This way works, it really moved them beyond their uniforms, to do their duty but lend a hand to help as well.”
Due to the success of the Experiential Learning Shifts in building understanding, trust and new relationships within the community, the practicum will continue for EPS recruit training classes in the future.
EPS Commitment to Action