Agents closer to people

The Longueuil community police pilot project seeks to shatter its image of repression among marginal clienteles.

Karine, a resident of the rooming house Chez Lise, in Longueuil, takes her lunch, seated in the common room of the establishment which houses 130 tenants. When a policewoman enters, Karine’s face falls. His angst is palpable.

“Me, the police, I don’t like that… The uniform, I don’t like…”, breathes the woman in her forties, trembling, putting down her coffee.

The police officer of the Longueuil agglomeration (SPAL) is Marylène Vandal. She walks over and gently asks her if she can sit down to talk. As the minutes passed, the fear seemed to dissipate.

“The trick is to go at her own pace, and maybe next time she will think that the police are fine,” explains the one who has worked for 25 years at SPAL.

Since December 8, Agent Vandal and 16 of her colleagues have been assigned to specific sectors of the SPAL territory, which includes Boucherville, Brossard, Longueuil, Saint-Lambert and Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville.

They are part of the Network for Social and Organizational Support (RESO) police pilot project, which aims to get closer to the most vulnerable communities in its territory and respond directly to their needs.

Being part of this pilot project was a dream for Marylène Vandal.

“I had to go back to studying every weekend after 25 years, taking exams and interviews. But I had a crush, I absolutely wanted this sector, I fought to have it and I know that I am in my place, “explains the one who has only four and a half years left before retirement.

SPAL hopes to be able to bring down the number of interventions through prevention work and their agents who will be readily available to the community.

According to a 2017 police analysis, seven out of 10 calls involved mental health issues or human distress, or even loneliness.

The agent with the owners and the founder of the Chez Lise rooming house.

Photo Clara Loiseau

The agent with the owners and the founder of the Chez Lise rooming house.

More human face

“I don’t want to be seen as a security guard, I want to be there humanely, talk to people and demystify the role of the police. By dint of making myself known, there will be a bond of trust and I could perhaps calm situations that will not require us to call 911, ”believes Vandal.

As she introduces herself to the residents, one of the tenants shouts at her.

“You say nice things, but will you really be there? Are you really going to take action? asks Jean-Guy.

In response to his concerns, the policewoman promises him that she will be visible and accessible.

“I’ll have time to sit down with you, have a coffee and even go to dinner with you if you want to talk to each other,” replied the agent from Longueuil, smiling.

For Sophie Noreau and Marie-Claude Lapointe, the two new owners of the Chez Lise rooming house, which has existed for nearly 50 years, the project and the arrival of Marylène Vandal are a blessing.

“We welcome the marginalized, those whom the owners do not want. We have a lot of mental health and consumer issues, but it’s not just that. They are also endearing people that we find at difficult times in their lives or who come to bounce back with us,” explains Sophie Noreau.

Defuse situations

During a single day, the two women and their employees may call 911 several times, but for situations that are not always emergencies.

“Sometimes we hesitate to call 911, we are embarrassed because we know it is not urgent. Having someone who will be able to defuse situations upstream is sure to help,” says Marie-Claude Lapointe.

For her part, the new mayor of Longueuil, Catherine Fournier, strongly believes in this project.

“I think it will change the role of the police services. We got there in 2021, we have to get out of the framework of just repression, to really develop a model that will be access to the community, ”explains the former provincial deputy.

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