Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stopping crime 21 blocks at a time

North End program seeks to help youth before police needed

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One of the city's grittiest neighbourhoods will be the testing ground for a new anti-crime program that doesn't involve hiring more cops or building more jails.

The Block By Block Community Safety Initiative will see a 21-block area in the heart of the North End become the focus of a new project.

Representatives from social and health agencies, community groups, schools and the police service will sit at the same table to address crime-related issues before police are called.

The 21-block area is from Burrows Avenue to the north, Salter Street to the east, Dufferin Avenue to the south and McGregor Street to the west.

The three-year pilot project, unveiled Wednesday by Premier Greg Selinger, Mayor Sam Katz and police Chief Devon Clunis, has been months in the making with the main goal of reducing crime in the targeted area and the long-term goal of expanding it to other parts of the province.

"Everybody is committed to breaking down the barriers to helping people," Selinger said.

In practical terms, a family experiencing substance abuse or domestic violence could be identified first through a school -- if a child stops attending classes, for example -- or a health-care agency. Appropriate services will be channelled to the family.

The point is to give the family the help it needs before issues escalate and police end up being dispatched.

The project is based on a similar program in Prince Albert, Sask., where there has been a steady drop in police calls for service, violent crime, domestic violence and crimes against young people in the past two years.

"There have been examples all across the world of where this has worked in other places," Selinger said. "This one will... shape itself to the characteristics of the community."

'There have been examples all across the world of where this has worked... This one will develop its own unique identity and personality and shape itself to the characteristics of the community' -- Premier Greg Selinger

Heather Leeman of the North End Women's Centre will be the project's executive director and it will be governed by a steering committee co-chaired by Justice Minister Andrew Swan and Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross.

Swan said part of the committee's work will be evaluating the project's progress and dealing with systemic issues that might prevent the Block By Block committee from doing its work. The province will spend $600,000 on the pilot project over three years.

Chief Clunis said the goal for police is a healthier community and fewer calls for service.

"Right now we don't have that full wrap-around support," Clunis said. "Often times the police will be targeting or focusing their resources on one person when... you need to have the schools or social workers also focusing on that particular individual."

Clunis said ignoring the causes of crime could mean police have a more significant problem on their hands in five to 10 years.

Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre executive director Diane Roussin said the program better targets funding for crime prevention.

"You hear it in child welfare, you hear it in justice and you hear it in police that large portions of budgets get spent on things that are probably quite preventable," she said. "We're hoping part of this project shows where we can spend resources to better prevent issues from happening.

"You'll always have the hard-core criminals who need to be dealt with by police, but I think we can work with families in a different way. It's not about locking people up, it's about getting to those families before the crimes happen."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2013 0

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Updated on Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 10:20 AM CST: cutline corrected

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