Most people only have the occasional encounter with a uniformed police officer, perhaps during a traffic stop or when reporting a crime, and therefore tend to define the role of the “average” patrol officer based on these activities.
In truth, there is much more to the role of a patrol officer. At the Medicine Hat Police Service (MHPS) there currently four patrol teams, each with 10 or 11 constables, one sergeant and one staff sergeant. The officers work on a 28-day rotation that consists of an equal number of 12-hour day and night shifts. For many of the 34,000 calls that the MHPS received in 2017, a patrol constable would have been the first to respond and could include anything from a traffic accident to a homicide, all in the same shift.
Patrol officers start their shift with a team briefing, where they are informed of and discuss recent occurrences, outstanding investigations that require follow up and suspects that are being sought. This is also a time where recent crime trends and “heat maps” are reviewed. Heat maps are an analytic tool that display areas of reported crime. This information allows patrol officers to conduct targeted foot patrols and other crime prevention techniques in that area. Officers are encouraged to conduct foot patrols whenever the opportunity presents, as they are an excellent crime prevention activity and a great way to talk with community members.
The nature of the job changes quite significantly at night. Officers switch from dayshift tasks such as conducting investigations and responding to calls after the fact, to responding to crimes in progress. Often, offences are fueled by alcohol and drugs and can be violent in nature. Many of the assaults, domestic disputes and disturbances happen after dark and continue on until the early morning hours. Licensed premise safety is a regular duty on the nightshift. Approximately 448 licensed premise checks occurred in 2017. These are purposeful, preventative measures used to enhance safety for staff and patrons, maintaining a presence in an effort to reduce violence in these establishments.
It doesn’t stop there. In addition to their regular duties, patrol members are encouraged to look for additional opportunities to serve the community. Opportunities such as participation in the Encouraging Positive Informed Choices (EPIC) program in the schools and at community events. In 2017, the MHPS Patrol Section recorded approximately 1,400 community engagement activities.
And finally, one cannot ignore the role that patrol officers play with regards to providing various types of care including mental health crisis support, opioid overdose response and assisting various community agencies such as Child and Family Services. Officers are often the first contact those in a state of mental of medical crisis. Within the course of their regular duties, a patrol officer is prepared to do everything from de-escalating a volatile mental health event, to administering naloxone, to assisting Child and Family Services with an intervention. As such, patrol officers are often called to be more, not only a “first responder” but also a “first care provider”.
Born and raised in Medicine Hat, Inspector Joe West started his policing career with the Calgary Police Service in 1995, and joined the Medicine Hat Police Service in 1997. Joe has served a number of roles throughout the Service including Patrols, the Tactical Team, the Organized Crime Section, and most recently the Major Crimes Section. As a member of the executive team, Joe provides leadership and support to the operational services division, which includes patrols, the Traffic Unit and Municipal Bylaw Enforcement.