A key indicator of a successful police force is a well established relationship with the community. It benefits the RCMP’s objective to protect and serve residents when they are engaging them through different activities and initiatives. The Community Policing Office (CPO), located on Granite Avenue, is the specialized branch that does just that. A branch comprised of Policing Officer Cst. Blake Chursinoff and Coordinator Marlene Jones, the CPO has its hand on many initiatives aimed at building relationships with the community.
The Herald had the opportunity to sit down with Chursinoff and discuss the many community engagement opportunities the Merritt CPO is both doing and planning to do.
“I think community engagement is going fairly well,” said Chursinoff. “The people who have gotten involved with our initiatives have given really great quality feedback, not just those pat on the back types.”
Chursinoff is fairly new to Merritt, transferring to the detachment back in July of 2020. His role as Community Policing Officer wouldn’t come till May of last year. Since then, the CPO has started a couple of new initiatives such as ‘Coffee with a Cop’.
Inspired by a similar program by the Abbotsford RCMP, Coffee with a cop is a once a month activity done on Wednesdays where residents are able to chat with Chursinoff and any other officers on duty who attend the event.
The location for the initiative started in the community garden behind the Merritt CPO. Now Coffee with a cop is done in McDonalds on River Ranch Road. Over the course of the few months it has been running, attendance grew from eight to 50 people. Chursinoff said that on average, 30 people attend.
“It’s gotten to a point where there are so many people that I need more police officers to attend so you can actually have coffee with a cop.”
Another engagement opportunity that was introduced last year was the ‘Youth Reading Program’.
“I try to be in schools whenever I can,” Chursinoff said about the reading program. “I am open to any ideas. If there are staff members or administrators who are in need of anything or would just like police presence there, I am available.”
Merritt CPO collaborated with SD58 elementary schools to create the reading program where Chursinoff comes and reads to the elementary students.
“We hope that the kids would see the police as regular people.”
For the older students at the high school, there is the School Liason Officer program. Every Tuesday, Chursinoff visits Merritt Secondary School (MSS) and makes himself available to students, teachers, and staff. J
“They’ve given me an office there so staff or students with concerns can approach me for questions or concerns,” he said.
“I’ve tried to make it a safe environment for kids to approach me and ask questions. A lot of the time it is about ‘what if’ scenarios such as drinking and driving. The students are really receptive and surprisingly more engaged than I have imagined.”
Though the program is being scrutinized at the provincial level, Merritt CPO will not be following recommendations to suspend the initiative.
“My relationship with the school has been fantastic since I started my duty there,” Chursinoff described. “It’s always one of the main highlights of my week. The staff, students, and administrators are all very receptive to my presence there.”
This great relationship with the high school has opened the door to another initiative by the CPO. Coming this March, the RCMP will be hosting a Jr. Police Academy for the high school students. Chursinoff is very excited about this newly introduced initiative, but remains tight lipped about what the CPO has in store.
“When I was working up north, we did a small version of this,” he explained. “I want to give it a shot here and see how it goes.”
Applications for the program closed after the beginning of January. Chursinoff shares that there were nine students who applied and will now go through interviews and physical tests before the week long program in March.
“The idea is to basically provide them with opportunities and give them as much exposure as I can to law enforcement and first responder opportunities,” Chursinoff explained. “I’ve got RCMP partners, CBSA partners, and police training partners who will be alongside me, so I’m very excited to see what it turns into.”
Apart from the new and exciting programs introduced, Merritt CPO also continues a number of programs that have already been running for years. The Youth Collaboration Table, Go By Bike, Block Watch, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, and Community Forums are all programs which the CPO is involved in.
“We are all for any opportunity we find or are presented to us to be a part of the community,” said Chursinoff.
“With things opening up, I think it’s good to get involved with things like the farmers market, and other community events. We’re always looking for ways to be a part of the community and try to engage the public and educate them on what we do and what our purpose is.”
For more information about the Merritt Community Policing Office programs and initiatives, please call 250-378-3955, or visit www.merritt.ca/community-policing.