We are all crime fighters
In the wake of city council’s decision to pour more resources into policing in Red Deer, the community needs to carefully examine how we actually create a safer city.
And it’s not just about more police, on the front lines or in the back rooms.
Certainly council’s decision to hire 12 RCMP officers, of which four are supervisors, and six municipal staff to assist police, over the next nine months, is a significant move.
We should applaud any effort to make safety a priority. (City administrators went into the budget process looking for four more officers and two support staff, so council adding eight more officers to that request, and four more support staff, is no small gesture to community safety.)
But Coun. Paul Harris’s reluctance to endorse the additional expenditure — for now — is worth examining.
Harris wants to make sure we don’t put the cart before the horse: the city is conducting a policing service level review that won’t be complete until March, and it may make more sense to establish benchmarks and examine all the resources before making hard and fast choices about spending on community safety.
Harris’s reluctance, during budget deliberations last week, is entirely understandable in that context.
The toolkit to fight crime should be large — assuming that boosting policing numbers alone will get the job done fails to recognize the breadth of the problem.
Beyond the problem with crime in this city — and there is a significant problem — we need to look at the roots of much of the crime, and how we can best head off much of it.
Essentially, the willingness to spend our way out of this problem should be tempered by practicality. We need a plan that includes ramped up police presence in schools; more emphasis on keeping kids in school; and greater counselling availability for young people, for example.
We need to find aggressive ways to head off the insidious march of drugs in our community, and to help those who have become ensnared in drugs before they feel compelled to turn to crime to satisfy their addictions.
We need to deal not just with organized crime (which is no small thing, and will be tackled with the ALERT initiative), but also with drug houses in otherwise peaceful neighbourhoods (the SCAN program is a large part of this, but its resources are spread very thin across the province).
We need to support programs like Neighbourhood Watch, and we need to encourage a culture that says it is right to watch out for one another.
We need to make a priority of planning and design features that discourage criminal activity.
And we need to make it clear to our police that full and prompt disclosure of the problems in the community is essential to confronting and overcoming crime.
No doubt safety is a critical issue in Red Deer. The most recent city numbers (in the 10 months to Oct. 31, 2012) showed some improvements over the previous year (murders were down from four to two and there were significantly fewer sex assaults). But there were enough signals of growing problems that we should all be alarmed: our robbery rate doubled; assaults were up (to an astounding 1,637 in just 10 months last year); and criminal harassment, fraud, car thefts, break-ins and all variety of other thefts were up.
Add to that snapshot this chilling fact: we have had two suspicious deaths in Red Deer in just two weeks, as the new year dawns.
Council is looking for made-in-Red Deer solutions. And the overriding Safety Charter adopted by council is a big part of the framework.
Let’s just be patient enough to let those solutions be found, and implemented, so we truly do conquer this crisis. Throwing money, and police, at the problem is far too simplistic.
John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.