Today’s Poll

Nelson Police's 'No Call Too Small' Policy—Out-of-Date Luxury or Progressive Community-Builder?

Bill Metcalfe
By Bill Metcalfe
November 28th, 2012

Should Nelson Police Department (NPD) officers spend some of their work day getting meals and delivering laundry for prisoners, looking after people’s dogs, and finding people rides to and from the hospital?

If your answer is yes, it could be because you want the police to be seen as members of the community with lots of trust-building contact with Nelson citizens. If you say no, it could be because the city has a hard time funding the police, and you think they should be paid only to carry out a narrower definition of police work.

No Call Too Small

The NPD’s policy of “no call too small” used to be more common among police forces, according to NPD Chief Wayne Holland, but is on the decline, partly for financial reasons and partly for more practical ones. “We have other people in the communities now with more specialized training in certain things, like mental health and fire fighting,” he told The Nelson Daily. But he says police often end up dealing with non-criminal matters because they are on call round the clock. And he thinks it’s a good idea, because it builds rapport between the police and the community.

Errands for prisoners, splitting wood, hauling water

Holland says the daily practical needs of prisoners in the jail are looked after by police officers.  “If they need medication or a prescription, it is our constables that get it. They do laundry runs, they pick up food for them.”

Holland gives another example of this broad definition of police work. “On one occasion the dispatcher had a person phone us and demand the police come to his location and haul water for him out of the creek, babysit his dog, and chop some firewood for him because he had broken his leg. This person was insistent, and he became very threatening, and as a result one of the local constables— born and raised here, knew exactly who the dispatcher had been talking to— went out there and chopped his wood, made sure his dog was delivered to another police officer who looked after it until this guy got back on his feet, and hauled the water. I remember covering the call because of the threatening nature of the individual, and when I pulled up there, there was my officer in full uniform chopping the wood, and the guy was happy and a potentially violent situation was averted.”

Holland says the NPD will periodically, on request, check residents’ doors and windows if they are away, respond to calls about dogs, skunks, and bears, and find transportation from the hospital for mentally disturbed people.

Police budget proposal asks for more staff

On November 5, the Nelson Police Board presented its proposed budget for 2013 to City Council. It requested more administrative help and the re-instatement of a police officer position that was lost in 2011. To read a story in The Nelson Daily about that presentation, and for a link to the presentation itself, click here

“It’s a tough one”

Asked by The Nelson Daily if the “no call too small” policy may be a luxury in tough fiscal times, Mayor John Dooley defends the policy. 

“In many cases, some of the calls you get, you will find there is no issue,” he told The Nelson Daily, “but having said that, sometimes the calls that appear to be small can lead to something that can be important.

“If you are the person taking the call,” he said, “how do you decide, ‘should I go or should I not?’ If you haven’t shown up or don’t go there, and something serious happens, then suddenly there are questions about it— why the police didn’t come, or why they took so long to get there, so it is a tough one.”

The mayor is the chair of the Police Board

Nelson City Police staff is employed by the Nelson Police Board, which is funded by the City of Nelson. As required by the Police Act of B.C., the mayor is the chair of the Board. The rest of the board is comprised of four local people appointed by the provincial government and one appointed by City Council. Nelson is one of eleven communities in the province with its own police force.

“It’s common sense”

With regard to police officers’ role in tending to the needs of prisoners, Dooley says, “The bottom line is somebody would have to do that, and pay for that. The reality is, if you have people on staff and they are there and they can run down to pick something up, fair enough, it does not mean they are not a policeman while they are doing that. It’s common sense.”

“We have this ‘no call too small’ policy,” says Dooley, “but that doesn’t mean we don’t prioritize calls. The bottom line is this is a community police force.’

The question of staffing at the NPD will be part of the City’s over-all budget deliberations in the spring of 2013.

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