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Organizations work together to keep Burlington safe; even bus drivers in the loop

Police tell crowd that historically, Burlington is safest community in region

Burlington residents learned how to keep safe thanks to a community event.

Ward 2 councillor Lisa Kearns hosted the forum at the Art Gallery of Burlington, to hear about several public services all aimed at protecting public safety.

The panel of speakers from Halton Region Police Services; Halton Paramedic Services; Burlington Fire Department; Burlington Transportation and Transit; Burlington By-Law department each took turns to explain the services their departments offer and how they connect with each other to provide a blanket of security to residents and business owners.

Several other organizations had display tables at the event on Wednesday evening (March 27). Participants had the chance to meet and interact with representatives from local organizations committed to Burlington community's well-being including: Crime Stoppers; Mothers Against Drunk Driving; YMCA; BFAST; MP Karina Gould; By-Law department; Burlington Hydro; Region of Halton; Burlington Fire Department; Halton Paramedic Services; and Halton Social Services.

Councillor Kearns welcomed the crowd and noted, “Safety is such an important topic in our community. Safety means different things to different people. A person, property, our neighbours, our businesses, our well-being, and our compassion for the vulnerable, transit safety, victim care, and prevention efforts are all public safety.”

Kearns explained that she was hosting this forum in response to community concerns and safety inquiries she has heard and thanked all the organizations that were present.

Raf Skwarka, operations inspector with Halton Regional Police Service (HRPS) (Burlington District 3) was first to speak. 

“Historically, we (Burlington) are the safest community in the region, the GTA and the country. We also have one of the lowest crime rates across the country.” Skwarka stated. “In 2023 our members (HPRS) responded to 22,000 calls for service, approximately 115 calls per day. Overall actual crime is down with the exceptions of auto theft and break and enters. We are working actively with resources to address that issue.”

Swarka also noted, “We respond to a number of calls related to mental health and addiction. Homelessness is also one of the top issues in which we are involved.”

The topic of homelessness was picked up by HRPS Staff Sergeant Chris Clarke. “We have a two-pronged approach for outreach. With our partners at the Region we do personal checks (with homeless) every day. On Thursdays we check the GO stations which have become de facto shelters and we take them to (more appropriate) shelters. However, there are a hard core of people that refuse to use these services.”

Over the course of the evening speakers noted that there are several purpose-built shelters in the region taking in the ‘un-housed’. There are shelters for women, women and families fleeing from domestic violence, a shelter for men (in Oakville), and other options for those in need to find both short-term and long-term housing.

Alex Sarchuk, Commissioner of Community and Social Services for the Region, spoke about the region’s Community Safety and Well-Being (CSWB) framework that has been in place since 2017.

“This framework is a way to bring a lot of different organizations and levels of government together in order to attack social problems early,” said Sarchuk. “We’ve heard from others tonight that the solution is not to wait until we have an emergency. Incident response is when the police arrive, when the fire department comes, when emergency calls come into the hospital, when there’s a need for emergency shelter for homeless people. Incidence response doesn’t result in the best outcomes and it’s usually the least cost-effective way to provide community services.”

Sarchuk showed a slide of ‘action tables’ highlighting issues and programs that are responding to those issues in the region. “There are over 100 agencies that deliver community services on a wide range of topics,” noted Sarchuk. “There are a lot of ‘action tables’ (sub-groups that tackle specific issues) addressing issues that are important for the safety of the community. People whose jobs it is to resolve these issues and to prevent these issues are working day in and day out to do this work.”

Prevention was also key for Burlington Fire Department Chief Karen Roche who, in a lighter moment, boasted that her table had the most ‘swag’ available – a number of hats, kerchiefs, stickers and pamphlets that promote fire prevention actions for the public.

“Community safety is really the cornerstone of what we do,” said Roche. “We want to reduce the amount of emergencies. We also don’t just put out fires. We do technical rescues. We go to medical incidents. We go to vehicle collisions. Our staff are highly trained and very caring. And we serve both a rural and urban community.”

Roche spoke about the fire department’s three lines of defense - Public awareness and education; fire prevention inspections; and fire emergency and response. BFD has also undertaken a new program that assists elderly residents, and others who may not have the means, to have someone come to inspect, install and even replace batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

The fire chief also noted that the leading cause of house fires was not smoking, it was unattended cooking. “People are busy, they’re distracted, they have pressures that take them away from what’s going on in the kitchen,” warned Roche.

Speakers from the city’s transportation department spoke about traffic safety and infrastructure improvements to make roads safer. From aligned traffic signals to crossing guards to more pedestrian crosswalks, to ‘area 40 zones’ (blocks of neighbourhoods with constant speed limits of 40km/hr.) the transportation department of the city is always looking to make things better for drivers and pedestrians.

Burlington Transit director Catherine Baldelli talked about improvements to public transit, taking the bus when out socializing, and free transit for seniors and youth (evenings and weekends). “Our drivers have the ability to communicate with emergency services,” said Baldelli. “The transit operators are our eyes and ears across the city almost 22 hours per day.” 

Dawn-Marie Lebel, acting superintendent of Halton’s community paramedic program, spoke about new initiatives that tie in with other health care providers and community partners in addition to the traditional services of emergency response. 

After a brief session of questions and answers of the panellists, Kearns thanked the audience for taking the time and interest to attend and show that community safety is important to residents and said, “This event was an incredible opportunity for Burlington residents to get actively involved in conversations about safety and to learn more about how everyone can contribute to making our neighbourhoods a safer place to live, work, and play.”

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Lawson Hunter

About the Author: Lawson Hunter

Lawson Hunter has been a freelance writer for more than 30 years. His articles on technology, the environment, and business have been published in local and national newspapers, magazines and trade publications
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