Following up on last week's Guelph Politicast podcast, I sought out the perspective of someone that represents one of the most important members of the Nightlife Task Force, the Guelph Police Service. Garry Male, an inspector with the Guelph Police Service, has been a part of the Nightlife Task Force off and on for five years, and he thinks that as compared to how things used to be handled downtown on bar nights, there's been a big improvement over the last several years.
"I think it's an evolution," Male explained. "Originally, we tried different things to deal with the crowds, and some things worked like the way we patrolled the downtown with supplemental staffing. What happened was all these community stakeholders got together, and it was at that point this wasn't just viewed as a policing problem."
The Nightlife Task Force is made up of the bar owners, the Downtown Guelph Business Association, Guelph Transit, the University of Guelph, the Central Student Association, the City of Guelph, and city council. With upwards of 7,000 seats open for revelry on a nightly basis, that's a lot of people and problems to manage, and Male said that the task force discovered that they each had a hand in created solutions. "Everybody go together and tackled the issues one by one to see what could be done about them," he said pointing to the deployment of port-a-potties and negotiating late night buses as two of the improvements made.
"From a policing perspective, our patrolling has changed in that we now deploy pretty much 90 per cent of our people on foot," added Male. "With that we looked at street closures, and that allowed everyone to move around freely in more space with less jostling, but it also opened up clear lines of sight so our officers could identify problems very quickly, and intervene very early."
Intervening early is key because the police watch how and where their time is allocated; if they can stop a fight or an accident early it means less time taking people into custody, or worse, taking them to the hospital. All that data is collected by the police to further amend and refine the annual plans for Safe Semester. "We do keep statistics on things such as intoxication arrests, liquor enforcement, by-law enforcement, also things like impaired driving, assaults and what-not," Male said. "Statistically, we've been doing better and better each year in those categories. We've gotten to the point where it's working very well."
Also working well, said Male, is the police coverage of the whole city. Of course the busiest areas are in the core, but there are other licensed establishments spread out around town, and, of course, private parties to consider. "We change the hours of work for some our staffing," explained Male. "We have an afternoon shift that would normally be split into early afternoon and late afternoon, but during Safe Semester they're all late afternoon, and we deploy them in the downtown core.Then our night shift, our regular patrol, is still patrolling the rest of the city. We also utilize our tactics and rescue unit downtown to patrol downtown as well."
Response though is just part of the Safe Semester philosophy. While September is the busiest month for traffic in the Downtown Entertainment District, Male said it's also making sure both returning and new students know what's acceptable and what's unacceptable. "It's also setting the tone," he said. "There are thousands of first year students that come in, and it sort of gives them the lay of the land and what the expectations are as well."
As for the Safe Semester prep for the coming year, Male said that they've pretty much down to a science. "As far as the overall plan with transit, portable washrooms, and the taxi stands, everything's going to be the same this year as it was last year," he said. "We're really not tweaking too much at all."
"What we have tweaked, for example, is in previous years we've use street closures for Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and last year, we narrowed that down to just Friday and Saturday nights," he added. "We're sticking with that this year, and we're going to do four weekends in a row."