By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – On January 5, 2020 the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) began a new initiative: The Human-centred Engagement and Liaison Partnership (HELP) Unit.
This new unit was made in collaboration with EPS and Boyle Street Community Services (BSCS), the latter being the trade name of The Boyle Street Service Society, an Alberta society and a registered charity which helps homeless and at-risk citizens within Edmonton.
“The goal of HELP is to connect people made vulnerable in Edmonton with supports and services before they become entrenched in the criminal justice system,” said BSCS in a Facebook post.
“The HELP unit consists of two leads and eight Boyle Street Navigators and six constables and two sergeants from EPS. Boyle Street navigators work with EPS constables to respond to calls from the community… We are excited to be part of this ground-breaking social policing project.”
HELP focuses on those individuals at greatest risk for victimization and offending, and at greatest risk and harm to themselves, others, and the community as a whole.
Despite launching in January 2021, the HELP unit has been working throughout 2020 by forming teams of Constables and Navigators, as well as, advocating with numerous agencies for their support in the new initiative.
There are over 15 partnering organizations supporting the Unit.
“We feel that the HELP program will lead the way in social policing for the Edmonton Police Service. We will the lead the way through the culture change and the shift in the way we must do business,” said Acting Sgt. Kellie Morgan, from EPS HELP Unit.
“We have given community members a monthly bus pass so they could attend appointments because transportation was their major barrier. Other citizens received assistance completing forms to obtain pension, housing, medical care, or even obtaining identification because they didn’t know who could help them or where to go,” explained Morgan.
“Then we have the truly heartwarming stories. We’ve helped community members gain keys to their own homes; sometimes it’s the first roof over their head in decades. Others are reconnected with family members across the country and our team assists in getting the community member to their family so they can be surrounded by those who love them and can support them.”
Doug Cooke, Boyle Street Community Services Navigator Manager said, “We kind of cover the gambit — I hope – of some of the ideas and issues that might come along. That we can share the information that we have and be able to support each other, as well as our community.”
“We’re building relationships between social services and the frontline, as well as the frontline and the community members they’re meeting on a daily basis,” said Cooke. “This takes many shapes, like casual conversations, responding in a time of crisis, supporting them in their journey or handing out snacks and water as a simple, yet powerful first step in initiating the building of trust among our vulnerable community members.”
The launch of the HELP Unit comes after the announcement that EPS is looking for new recruits for their new Nîsohkamâkewin Council, which is a revamp of the force’s previous Indigenous Liaison Committee. Set to begin in March 2021, the Council is the “Indigenization of a policing institution,” said EPS Indigenous equity advisor Andrea Levey.
“It’s the reclamation of Indigenous cultures, worldviews (and) perspectives within a colonial institution. It’s the way that we engage with police members as Indigenous peoples. It’s the way that police engage with Indigenous people out in the community.”
Those seeking to volunteer with the council can contact Levey at [email protected] by Jan. 31. Successful candidates will be decided by a panel by mid-February.