Halifax is building a troublesome reputation as a community that is struggling with crime and its aftermath. It comes to no surprise that we find ourselves debating the steps that we should take to reduce crime while addressing the root causes.
In the days that followed the release of ambiguous stats that provided an unclear picture of what we are facing in terms of crime, conversations in our community were strong and diverse. Headlines that spoke of high murder rates and other violent crimes ( “violent crime problem”, “Halifax murder stats 2nd in Canada”, “crime was down”) dominated our media and we were quick to respond.
Some decried the cut to the HRPD budget this year. Some demanded harsher sentences for criminals, even when the Federal government seems to have already acted on that wish. Some demanded more boots on the ground, while others warned against knee-jerk reactions, urging resistance to a “moral panic.”
Haligonians want to feel safe in their homes and neighbourhoods, with the assurance that all residents and visitors to our community share in our safety. Should we be concerned about ambigious stats? Are stats providing us with a clear snapshot of the level of violence on our streets and in our parks? What should we be doing to make sure Halifax is addressing crime appropriately?
Crime trends change over time so law enforcement and other agencies must adapt to these changes. Sometimes crime leaps ahead of enforcement, with the police running to catch up. Crime stats will go up and down in the short term, but to address the long term trends, we must explore prevention efforts in partnership with all community stakeholders.
HRM already has the 10th highest number of police per capita out of 36 cities across Canada. (Source) While an officer on every street corner provides an illusion of safety, does it really stop the kind of serious violent crime that spiked in 2011?
According to law enforcement and some analysts, the violent crime in HRM right now is related to (somewhat) organized crime. It is crucial that HRM and law enforcement focus efforts on building trust in communities effected by these crimes while continuing to explore best practices in other cities.
Moreover, we must not siphon the issue of crime into an issue for law enforcement to tackle alone. We all have a role to play in the safety of our shared community:
- We must reinvest in community development, coordinate efforts to build safe and healthy communities, and work to bring an affordable housing strategy to the HRM (my affordable housing strategy approach is outlined here).
- We must focus on at-risk youth by involving them in the community (like Kiptu Youth and the province’s Lighthouse programs, and ensuring that our recreation facilities are affordable and available to all.
- We must ensure that the RCMP and HRPD have sufficient resources to move on patrolling and ensure they have time to build trust in all the communities of HRM.
- We must ensure that this issue is not one left to police alone. Community challenges such as crime requires a community response. We must ensure that local communities, organizations, residents and businesses are at the table when plans are discussed.
- We must call on our councillors and mayor to provide strong leadership. They can play an instrumental role in a strategy to mobilize and coordinate all levels of government to not just fight not just crime, but to prevent crime.
Our safety depends on it.