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THE FRONT LINE: 'I wanted to do something that mattered'

Barrie police Insp. Rich Johnston says COVID-19 has been challenging, but the local department has embraced change and innovation
2020-05-13 rich johnston
Barrie police Insp. Rich Johnston has been with the local department for 22 years. Image supplied
From how people are safely gathering together, putting food on the table for loved ones, or converting their homes into office spaces and daycare centres, the coronavirus is changing how our world works.

One thing that hasn’t stopped is the need to keep our community safe.

Front-line workers such as doctors, nurses, firefighters, paramedics, grocery store employees and the like continue to make a difference.

Enter — thankfully — the men and women of the Barrie Police Service (BPS).

Insp. Rich Johnston has been with the local police department for 22 years and has seen many changes over the years. COVID-19 is a challenge to be reckoned with and he says his counterparts are up to the task.

“This organization has demonstrated what being at the forefront of policing is all about in response to this pandemic,” he says. “We have a willingness to explore change and I think that is one of our greatest strengths.”

In his role as inspector of operational support services (it’s a long list, so get ready) — community services, crime prevention, traffic, marine, remotely piloted aircraft systems, courts services, communications unit, tactical support and canine (those amazing dogs which do such an amazing job) — Johnston says policing is adapting to the changing times and technology is something that needs to be part of the plan.

“The BPS has become far more accepting of change and innovation,” Johnston says. “There was an overnight adoption of new technologies (to policing) and an operational approach to problem solving. The end of the goal focus is: where do we need to get to and how do we most effectively and efficiently get there?”

The coronavirus might be challenging for police, but service to the community will continue, he adds.

“We have adopted and implemented flexible working hours, including at home work, and altered deployment. From the outset, our members’ wellness and our community’s safety has driven our decision-making. We have encouraged more online service delivery options and are looking at expanding that even more.” 

But working on the street with the city’s less fortunate folks in these trying times — perhaps living on the street or not being able to find the same safe space they normally would — is still a priority for Barrie police, Johnston says.

“We have community members — they come from all walks of life — who are as deserving of our services as anyone else. Often times they receive more service because they need our assistance.”

Just because bars and restaurants are closed, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is less illegal activity, Johnston adds.

“We have had a statistically significant decrease in the number of community events precisely because of the provincial orders that are in place prohibiting large gatherings,” he says. “We have seen reduced numbers of traffic infractions with reduced numbers of cars on the road (but) we have not seen a statistically significant increase in any one particular crime area. We have not seen increased violence or antisocial type behaviour that some had anticipated.”

Like his fellow officers, Johnston’s need to serve runs deep.

“I was brought up believing a life of service to one’s community is an honourable duty. I wanted to do something that mattered,” he says. “I was also brought up with a respect for the law and authority. I have always wanted to be the type of person that when people were having their worst day - and had to call police - that I would be one of those people they could rely on to be there to help.”