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Community Engagement

Story and Photo courtesy of Sue Sgambati, BarrieToday.com 

The arrest of a suspect in a car window smashing case, stopping vandalism at the Alcona Library and helping rid the community of a dangerous vacant building.

In just two months, officers in the new Community Mobilization Unit of South Simcoe Police have been making a mark with their specialized mandate.

Armed with the luxury of time and flexibility that patrol officers don't have, Constables Ian Fenik and Nicole Kostiuk comprise the unit which was formed in January.

"Everyone can talk about the old days and that one police officer they all knew by name," explains Fenik. "That's what I guess we're trying to get back to.  We're not reinventing the wheel of policing but we're going back to the core of what it was with engaging the community."

Both officers have been on the force for nine years and jumped at the chance to start the new venture.

"You get to do all aspects of policing," Kostiuk said, who also enjoys community policing. "Whether it be a major investigation or you're just out there doing traffic enforcement. It's a little bit of everything."

The arrest in the car window smashing case highlights their advantage.

Kostiuk and Fenik were able to use that important tool - time - to thoroughly, repeatedly canvass neighbourhoods, seek out security camera video and be proactive.

"It's significant because it was approximately 30 victims and it was at least a month and a bit investigation," explains Kostiuk. "We slowly gathered intell and came up with some suspects, did some surveillance."

"We would show up first thing in the morning and all of a sudden that's what we do all day. Front line guys go from call to call to call," Fenik said.

The police service's success story at the Alcona Library makes the head of the unit particularly proud.

"We had kids smoking up there, burning furniture. The library is brand new. It's a beautiful facility. We had 22 calls down there. So the problem wasn't being resolved," said Sgt. John Chalmers.

Kostiuk and Fenik started showing up every day, getting to know library staff and the kids causing the problems.

Police did a presentation to employees about laws and bylaws and how they can take responsibility.

"It's mobilizing the community," said Fenik. "They didn't know what their authorities were so now they don't have to call us right away, unless they exhausted all their options. They can help themselves."

 "We found out who the core individuals were, they ended up trespassing them and we haven't had a problem there for almost three weeks now," adds Chalmers.  "It's really really good."

Similar story in Bradford, when the unit arrested some kids for smoking marijuana just off school property.

Instead of charging the first time offenders, Chalmers says police brought in their families and teachers for a group discussion.

"We really made the parents feel like, you know what, you're still part of this community. Your kid is part of the community and here is one of the problems we're having with kids smoking drugs. That presentation went really well," Chalmers said.

"These are some of the things we're doing to target the areas but reach out to the community and say you also have a partner in it as well so let's work together."

An abandoned house in Innisfil is gone after police had 32 calls for break ins.

"Officers kept going back. They found needles, drugs. They found the house inside was being burned.  Kids were setting pieces on fire here and there. Someone was going to get killed," Chalmers said.

Kostiuk and Fenik sat down with the owner and town officials to explain the man's liability and within two weeks he had the place demolished.

"He called us. He thanked us. 'I just want you to know that place is down and we can all rest'," Chalmers recounted.

Both officers hand out their phone numbers and email addresses so residents can contact them directly.

"They want a point person that they can bounce ideas off. They want to call a police officer. This is getting back to the old days of the police officer walking the beat, knowing their name, who we are."

"It's not about enforcement necessarily it's about engagement," said Kostiuk.

In just the first two months, the service is starting to see a difference according to the unit's biggest fan - the Sgt. in charge - who says there are already plans to add more officers.

"The more personalized we're getting, the more the community is really engaging with us and they absolutely love it.  The response we've had for two months is outstanding, absolutely outstanding," Chalmers said.

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