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Loyalist Journalism and Belleville Police team up for survey

Deputy Police Chief Ron Gignac speaks with first-year journalism student about why he's in the journalism program. Photo by Joseph Quigley, QNet News

Deputy Police Chief Ron Gignac speaks with first-year journalism student David Mallory about Loyalist’s journalism program. Photo by Joseph Quigley, QNet News

By Joseph Quigley [1]

BELLEVILLE – What do the people of Belleville have to say about their police service?

A new project between Loyalist College’s journalism program [2] and the Belleville Police Service [3] seeks to answer that question.

First-year journalism students will conduct a phone survey of Belleville residents on behalf of the city police. The survey will ask residents for feedback and recommendations for policing in the city.

The information gathered will be used for the police department’s Community Safety Plan, a strategic plan for how the police will operate over the next three years.

Deputy Chief of Police Ron Gignac, who proposed the partnership project, spoke Monday with the first-year students who will conduct the survey.

He said he wanted to have journalism students, as opposed to the police department, ask the questions to ensure the public sees the process as being unbiased.

“I don’t want the community survey to be tainted,” Gignac explained to the students. “It’s not us getting those responses. It’s you. That has an impact.”

In an interview with QNet News after his talk, Gignac said the project is an important part of community outreach, which is vital to the work of the Belleville Police. 

“Without it, we can’t effectively police. We can’t arrest our way out of crime. We have to have community mobilization,” he said. “Because we can’t do it alone. We are the police. You are the police and the police are the people.”

Inspector Chris Barry and journalism professor Andy Clarke. Photo by Agnes Finkle, QNet News

Insp. Chris Barry of the Belleville Police and Loyalist journalism Prof. Andy Clarke discuss the survey at one of Loyalist’s journalism labs. Photo by Agnes Finkle, QNet News

On the side of the journalism program, students got the chance to give input and feedback on improving the questionnaire prepared by the police, as well as come up with possible questions to ask. One of those questions has been added to the survey.

Katherine Sedgwick, a professor and co-ordinator of the journalism program, said she was glad to see the Belleville Police be open to receiving public feedback.

“I’m really excited the force has decided to reach out to the public generally and ask for public input as to what it’s doing,” said Sedgwick. “I think that’s a really progressive move by the police. In some cities and towns, police forces are pretty private.”

Several students said they were excited to take on the project and learn from the experience.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” said first-year journalism student Cody Starr. “I’ve never had something like this happen before – probably none of us have.”

“It’ll be an interesting addition to the studies,” said Agnes Finkle, another first-year student. “It’s cold-calling for information, and as a journalist, we have to know how to do that.”

BELLEVILLE - 27/03/13 - The current police station at 93 Dundas Street East was constructed in the 1960’s, and renovated in 1985. Photo by Tyson Leonard

Though journalism students got the chance to contribute to the survey, one of their proposed questions on local versus provincial policing was cut. File photo by Tyson Leonard, QNet News

However, not every question the students suggested for the survey will be asked.

One question the students came up with was about people’s views on having a municipal police service versus an OPP detachment [4]. The question was opposed by Gignac, who said it was something separate from what the police wanted to accomplish with the survey.

“This survey is specific for us to gather the information for the Belleville Police Service, to enhance the way we do things within the city,” said Gignac. He added that the question of provincial versus municipal policing in Belleville is something that falls outside that objective.

Sedgwick said she was “a little disappointed, because I think it was a good question. In this area of Hastings County, the issue of whether municipalities should have OPP policing or municipal policing is a big deal.” But she added that she understood the police point of view about the question being outside the scope of the survey.

The survey will begin Monday. People who would like to ensure they get a call and can answer the survey questions can leave their contact information at an email address that Loyalist Journalism has set up, bellevillepolicesurvey@gmail.com [5].