Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Police alone can't cut crime rate

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Between 1991 and 2010, the crime rate in Canada's nine largest cities declined a whopping 50 per cent. In Winnipeg, the reduction was only 25 per cent, much of which was due to an 85 per cent decline in car theft. With the exceptions of the auto-theft prevention strategy and some gang-reduction programs, violent crime and community safety have remained significant challenges for Winnipeg.

Block by Block, a new crime-reduction strategy currently underway, could significantly change this.

The Province of Manitoba, the City of Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Police Service have developed partnerships with a broad range of social agencies and community groups that will establish one of North America's most comprehensive community-safety and wellness initiatives, literally tackling the issues block by block. This initiative will initially focus on a 21-block area in the William Whyte neighbourhood. If successful, it will expand to other communities.

Three factors make Block by Block innovative and give it a good chance of being successful: integrated social-service delivery; crime prevention through social development; and a new policing strategy.

The Winnipeg Police Service knows the police can never arrest their way out of the city's problems

First, Block by Block focuses on prevention and early intervention, modelled on the City of Prince Albert's Community Mobilization program. Prince Albert significantly reduced its once-soaring crime rates by over 40 per cent with this approach and also witnessed reductions in other measures, such as emergency hospital admissions and social service referrals.

Winnipeg's program will bring together a broad range of social-service agencies to deliver services to those at highest risk and in greatest need. Consider a 3 a.m. police response to a troublesome party house. When police arrived, a woman was unconscious on the floor and EMS took her to the hospital. Three girls in their early teens were at the party and the police supervisor had to decide what to do with them. No social agencies were open that late at night and the supervisor didn't want to take them to a detention facility because their only offence was underage drinking. He spent considerable time trying to locate a responsible adult to look after the girls. This call involved three police cars and two EMS vehicles and police had no means of following up to ensure the same problems didn't arise at the same house the very next day.

Block by Block will enable the police to work hand in hand with other agencies to deal with problems such as this one. Service delivery will be co-ordinated through a "hub," a diverse group including community agencies, child welfare, health, addictions, education, police and probation. This group will meet several times a week to co-ordinate services to individuals and families. The hub's goal is to intervene at an early stage before problems become serious.

The hub's policies will be directed by a centre of responsibility (COR), made up of officials with the authority to ensure inter-agency co-operation. The COR will facilitate systemic change in areas where current policies get in the way of helping the community deal with its problems.

Second, Block by Block will focus on crime prevention through social development. The LiveSAFE Community Safety and Well-being Initiative is focused on improved housing, better access to wellness and recreation services, neighbourhood beautification and improved infrastructure. These community-development initiatives will be expanded in the area in co-operation with community groups.

Finally, a new policing strategy will better serve the area. The Winnipeg Police Service has adopted a policy of working with the community to deal with the issues underlying criminal behaviour because they know the police can never arrest their way out of the city's problems. The WPS is part of the hub and the COR and are partners in LiveSAFE.

The WPS is also implementing a Smart Policing Initiative, focusing on hot spots -- places with a high incidence of crime and disorder -- and on high-risk individuals, rather than simply responding to calls for service. This approach has been proven effective elsewhere.

Reduced crime is one of the anticipated outcomes of Block by Block, but there may be other benefits, such as reduced emergency hospital admissions, reduced family-service referrals, better educational outcomes and higher employment rates. By working together, the community will be able to build a stronger community, block by block.

Rick Linden is chairman of the Manitoba Police Commission. He is an expert adviser with EvidenceNetwork.ca and teaches criminology at the University of Manitoba.

-- Evidence Network

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 25, 2013 A9

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