The Community Race Relations Committee (CRRC)’s fourth Instagram live event in its series, “Tough Conversations with Peterborough Police,” featured CRRC Executive Director Angela Connors speaking with Alice Czitrom, Victim Services Coordinator for the Peterborough Police Service (PPS).
For those following the CRRC-PPS conversations, whether through Instagram Live, IGTV, or through Arthur’s coverage, the conversation with Czitrom marks a move away from the Operations division of the PPS, in which Inspector John Lyons, Community Engagement and Development Coordinator Peter Williams, and Sergeant Ted Branch work. Instead, Czitrom works in the Investigative Services division. Like Williams, Czitrom works as a civilian staff member of the PPS.
Czitrom and Connors had not met before this conversation series was announced. The two spoke briefly the week before to do some introductions ahead of Monday’s event.
Czitrom is a Trent University alum (2006, graduating class of 2010) who studied for the Forensic Science B.Sc. While she was a student, she volunteered for Victim Services of Peterborough Northumberland (VSPN), a local not-for-profit organization focused on providing “free and confidential supportive services aimed at early intervention, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
“I never went to school thinking this is where my career would end up,” she said, noting that victim services and assistance were not at the forefront of forensic studies and policing when she was in school.
After working with VSPN as both a volunteer and a staff member, Czitrom filled a job opening at the PPS in 2012. She was 22 years old.
“[The other Victim Services Coordinator and I] start to evolve as things change,” she said of her position. “We change as the community changes, as the needs change.”
Czitrom described three primary ways that Victim Services makes contact with its clients. First, Victim Services may be called out to a scene as it is being handled by PPS.
“We can be called out by the investigating officer or the sergeant to help where they think there may be a need for some extra help,” she said, noting that oftentimes there are non-criminal unfortunate deaths like suicides or overdoses where family and loved ones may need care.
The second way that Victim Services gets involved with clients is by reviewing cases after the call has happened. Cases that officers file may be flagged for Victim Services to review and follow up on if deemed necessary, which are made available to the Coordinators digitally.
“[Officers] ask us to review [these cases] and connect with that person [or involved people] after the fact to provide some referrals, advice, support or information,” Czitrom explained, like people dealing with domestic or familial disputes, issues with housing, and sexual violence.
The third way that PPS Victim Services connects with clients is by having potential clients call directly.
“Maybe they don’t know where to start, so they decide to call us,” she said.
When asked about the PPS “No H8” campaign, Czitrom said that Victim Services has been involved by making sure that potential clients and clients feel heard and will be connected to services that will help them achieve their desired outcomes.
“I’m just trying to figure out who decides if somebody is a victim,” Connor wondered in response. “Is there criteria that you have?”
“It’s so interesting that you bring that up, because I think many years ago I had talked to someone here about the unit name ‘Victim Services,’ because really, we’re so much more than just ‘Victim Services,’” Czitrom said, noting that asking for the help or direction that Victim Services may suggest does not make someone a “victim,” “but that’s how it all started.”
The PPS Victim Services unit was started in 1995 to support women who were looking to flee abusive relationships, but has expanded its scope over the past 25 years to meet the community’s other social needs like housing, poverty, and substance use and abuse, Czitrom explained. Because of its origins with women and a clearer victim-perpetrator dynamic, the name remains, though these are simultaneously points of critique around the language.
“We don’t categorize [clients into “victims” and “non-victims”], honestly,” she said. “What we often tell people is ‘There’s no wrong reason to call us.’”
Czitrom is also the co-chair of the Peterborough Risk-Driven Situation Table, giving the PPS access to Peterborough’s frontline workers and services that clients may be referred to when calling Victim Services.
“Peterborough’s great – and I’m sure you’ve found that, too – around social workers or frontline workers connecting with each other,” she said. “Reaching out for support has never been an issue when it comes to this community.”
Connors then asked how the changes and expansions of Victim Services’ scope are evaluated and brought to the Services’ attention, or how the Coordinators come to know trends that affect the community to adjust its approaches.
Czitrom described that the changes come up “organically,” whether through community-identified concerns brought forth by a community member, a community partner agency, or by Community Engagement and Development Coordinator Williams. She also said that focuses or trends are identified by the government, which are then addressed through grant funding, like human trafficking and the opioid crisis.
“Now we’re talking about anti-racism work, and how do we integrate that into doing better learning, advocating, all of those things,” Czitrom said. “We’re sort of on the other end, responding to things that are happening in the community, and then looking at, ‘Okay, what training do we need? What information do we not have? Who’s the expert in this area that we really should be working with?’ as opposed to leading that conversation or leading that work.”
For example, the PPS has been working with the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre (KSAC) around anti-violence work, sexual violence work, and trauma-informed work “because [KSAC] has been doing trauma-informed work long before we have,” she explained.
Connors was curious to hear more about trauma-informed work in Czitrom’s role, and to what extent it had been implemented in the sworn members’ approach to calls.
“Historically, trauma-informed practice was sort of something that was really only discussed amongst certain types of service providers – so counsellors, therapists, violence against women sectors,” Czitrom said. “And what I’ve noticed, and what we’ve pushed really as an agenda internally, is that trauma-informed practice can’t only exist in those areas. It needs to exist in all areas of communities, including policing.”
Trauma-informed work and anti-racism work are intertwined, she noted, explaining that being mindful in both ways “deeply impacts that person’s interaction with police, but also their recovery [from the incident being reported].”
“Does the trauma-informed practice – when we’re talking particularly around racism and ethnicity – does that speak to historical trauma, or mainly the traumatic experience that’s happening at [the] moment?” asked Connors.
“Being trauma-informed helps us meet people and see people differently, in that it’s not about why they are the way that they are, why they’re presenting [to the police], but what happened to them, including up into this moment in time,” replied Czitrom. “And it’s not about having to know all of [the happenings], but having to appreciate that those things then inform how we see the world, how we interact with the world, including how we interact with authority, with the justice system.”
She and Connors spoke very briefly about the different experiences that they have walking into the police station, with Czitrom being a longtime employee of the PPS, and Connors being an Indigenous woman who had no familiarity with police officers prior to working in Peterborough. Having to pick up a police record check downtown, like Connors did recently, can cause disparate levels of stress depending on historical and personal trauma or experiences.
“So, did you have any qualms about joining the police in this role?” Connors asked. “And when you were thinking about joining the police, was there any kind of hesitancy in doing that?”
“I don’t remember there being a hesitation but I remember there being a feeling of feeling intimidated,” Czitrom said, since she was young and unfamiliar with the PPS’ bureaucracy.
Regarding the hiring and interviewing process for her role, Czitrom noted three steps: a résumé and cover letter application, a written exam, and an in-person interview with a PPS panel.
“With that interview itself, was the focus just on your knowledge and awareness of social services in Peterborough? Did you go beyond that to indicate what some of your core values were? Particularly, I’m thinking about an anti-oppressive lens. Anything like that that you can remember? Because that was a while ago,” Connors asked with a laugh.
Czitrom said that her interview was “very traditional,” in the sense that it focused on demonstration of knowledge, competencies, and experiences with conflict resolution surrounding Victim Services work. There were no questions about anti-racism anti-oppression (ARAO) values or competencies.
“And honestly, ‘trauma-informed,’ that language, that wasn’t something that was openly discussed. It was really kept within [violence against women (VAW)] work at that time, at least from my memory. Bringing that sort of lens or language, even using the word ‘trauma’ in a policing atmosphere, was something that just maybe starting,” she said.
When asked about witnessing or suspecting an officer’s mishandling of a case through her work in Victim Services, Czitrom did not say that she had or had not, but that clients that have already filed reports with the police or had an interaction with the police have come to Victim Services with concerns about their interactions with specific officers.
“[Clients] might say things like ‘I didn’t feel heard,’ or ‘I didn’t get to tell my side of the story,’ or ‘I really need to speak to that officer again because I didn’t feel like I could say what I needed to say at the time,’ or simply, ‘I had a really bad experience, what can I do about that?’” she said.
From there, Victim Services can offer options to the client like the officer’s supervisor’s contact information, processes for complaints within the PPS and with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD). This is possible because the Victim Services staff are not sworn members of the Service, and therefore do not have the same obligations as police officers when they are receiving information, said Czitrom. The only times that Victim Services’ confidentiality with clients may be broken is when there is serious concern about a client or a child’s safety.
“Just because we work within the police department doesn’t mean that you have to have a police officer deal with the situation. You can absolutely call and get some advice on something or direction, if that’s what you’re looking for,” she explained, noting that the conversations are meant to be collaborative to explore various options for the client to consider and pursue based on their desired outcomes at the time.
Czitrom is also the main or primary handler for Pixie, a new dog acquired by the PPS. Pixie’s backup handler is Detective Sergeant Josh McGrath.
In a previous conversation, Sergeant Ted Branch explained that the other two PPS canines acquired late last year are police service dogs, whose training “includes narcotic detection, tracking, agility, article search, building search, open search, chase and apprehension, and handler protection,” according to the PPS website. They will work for six to eight years with their handling officer, after which they will retire. Primary handlers and service dogs live together, even after retirement.
Police-canine relationships are a complex issue. On the police department end of these relationships, there are rising concerns about the use of police service dogs and the danger they may pose to the public. Some of this comes with the apparent “nature” of police dogs, with the preferred breeds for police service dogs being German Shepherd or Belgian Malinois, and some of this comes with the “nurture” or training goals for police service dogs. There are also concerns about animal welfare while on duty, with dogs dying in the line of fire or from occupation-related heat exhaustion. As for non-police dog interactions with the police, anecdotal evidence from the United States suggests what some call “puppycide,” or police killings of dogs that are perceived to be a threat to officer safety, regardless of whether the animal was the reason for the police call in the first place. While Canada’s data on police-related animal deaths is lacking, the Qikiqtani Truth Commission final report implicated both the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Québec police forces in killing Inuit sled dogs, or qimmiit, which had significant impacts on Inuit culture, and health and wellbeing.
However, Pixie is a Labrador Cross breed and a police facility dog as described by Assistance Dogs International, rather than a police service dog. Dogs can go through various training processes for different accreditation, said Czitrom.
“There’s a lot of talk about ‘therapy dog,’ ‘trauma dog,’ ‘emotional support dogs,’ and all of those titles mean different things,” she explained.
Pixie comes from National Service Dogs, a charitable organization in Cambridge, Ontario that trains dogs to serve handlers with autism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as Canine Assisted Intervention and companionship. Pixie was originally trained to work with a boy with autism, but also completed further training before coming to the PPS.
When people come in to do interviews for a report at the police station, Pixie is available to comfort them while they speak to a detective, said Czitrom. She will also be taken to courtroom scenarios to comfort clients when the pandemic subsides. Unlike other police dogs, Pixie is allowed to be touched and pet.
“A lot of times, for a lot of people, making eye contact with another person, especially a police officer, is really intimidating, as you talked about a bit before, but connecting with a dog is so much easier,” Czitrom said. “If you like dogs, obviously!”
“That was going to be my next question!” said Connors, with a laugh. Czitrom clarified that Pixie is not forced onto anyone that encounters her, but that people often gravitate towards her.
The conversation then moved to the topic of wellness checks, with Connors and Czitrom confirming that an upcoming “Tough Conversation” will include PPS officers involved in the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT). Connors wanted to know how Victim Services may be involved in situations that include wellness checks and MCITs.
Victim Services can be involved with a wellness check in one of two ways, depending on whether the person involved is a client or not.
“I’ve called in wellbeing checks on clients before, for instance,” Czitrom explained. “If I’m involved in someone’s life as Victim Services and I’m concerned for their because of information I am holding or because of something they’ve said to me, then I will ask for police to go and check on that person.”
Alternatively, someone may call Victim Services looking for options for handling a situation, and a wellness check could be an option that is decided upon, she said.
In their brief introductions before the live conversation, Connors and Czitrom spoke about Victim Services’ role in safety planning for individuals for long-term support. Czitrom was clear that safety planning will look different for different people and different scenarios, but that multiple agencies should be included and collaborate to best serve the client.
“Safety planning can be a lot of different things, but the biggest thing I’ve found over the years is that it cannot happen in silos,” she said. “I can’t be the only agency or service provider doing the safety plan with that client; I need to try and help them connect with other supports”
Czitrom also emphasized that clients need to be connected with services that are available 24 hours a day that are alternatives to police, like the Four Counties Crisis Line, or the KSAC crisis support phone line or new text message line.
“Say somebody has an interaction, they end up for whatever reason getting arrested, [and] they also believe themselves to be victims. Is that still within your purview? Would that look any different than any other person who contacted you?” Connors asked.
It may take longer for Victim Services to get connected to someone in the scenario Connors presented due to the justice system – or “judicial system” as Czitrom called it, “because there’s very little justice in my view, in the system” – and its slow processes. However, once that person is out of police custody or out on probation, that person or one of that person’s support workers may refer clients to Victim Services to follow up, Czitrom said.
“There are many, and I mean many, people that we’ve supported over the years that have criminal records, or who have been involved with the police in some capacity. It does not change, at all, the fact that something’s happened to them and they need support around that,” she said.
Ultimately, it is up to the potential client to choose which agency suits their situation, needs, and comfort level to begin their journey.
“We may not be the right fit for everybody, meaning that if it’s a barrier to interact with us in some capacity, for anyone really, but they feel comfortable going and seeing someone at [Nogojiwanong] Friendship Centre, or [Canadian Mental Health Association]… then connecting with those folks is just as important,” Czitrom concluded.
The conversation ended with the announcement of PPS Chief Scott Gilbert as the guest for the Monday July 27 event. Coverage to follow.