A crime prevention report from Edmonton argues investing in after school programs may get taxpayers a bigger bang for their buck than simply hiring more police
While some cities cut funding to the arts and pour millions into the ballooning budgets of their police departments, one Canadian mayor seems to be taking a radically different approach. As we previously wrote, Edmonton's mayor has just released a provocative report which is looking to fight crime in a non-traditional way. That is, he's not simply going to give his police department another blank cheque and ask them to go get the bad guys.
Last week, a 55 page report by the Edmonton Task Force on Community Safety was released to the public. Overall, the report focuses on getting at the root causes of crime before it happens. The $400K report commissioned by Mayor Stephen Mandel is proposing a number of initiatives to help further reduce Edmonton's crime rate. It should be noted that due mainly to demographics (the bad guys are getting older), the crime rates in most major urban centres in Canada has been in free-fall over the last decade. Despite this, urban taxpayers across Canada have been pouring hundreds of millions into city coffers in order to hire more police.
Let me first say that I think Mayor Mandel should be commended for engaging in this dialogue and for challenging the status quo when it comes to crime fighting. Not many mayors are prepared to say the solution to further reducing crime might not simply lie in providing his police department with more full time staff. There are a lot of mayors across Canada that could learn a thing or two from Mandel.
As for the report itself, the Edmonton Journal reports that is makes a series of recommendations including:
- Integrate and increase family supports and programs in crime prevention hubs, in neighbourhood schools.
- Provide school hubs the resources to offer everything from physical activity to homework help to kids during "critical" after-school hours.
- Provide funding and specialized staff to identify and deter kids from entering criminal gangs.
- Create a strategy to help families and youth suffering with fetal-alcohol syndrome, and develop a life-skills program for at-risk females to lower the rates of teen pregnancy and fetal-alcohol births.
- Develop a model of social service delivery for at-risk youth that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- Work with aboriginal and ethnic communities to engage and invite them into civic government and decision-making.
- Organize neighbourhoods and find leaders within them to run grassroots crime-prevention programs.
- Create new, community-led initiatives to reduce knife violence, increase the number of youth shelter beds and support the existing drug court.
- Establish and fund a Community Safety Co-ordination Council to work with existing agencies and implement evidence-based, crime-prevention programs.
The bulk of the report's recommendations were actually leaked to the media some time ago, so unfortunately the release of the report last week was somewhat of a non-event. However, Mandel believes that if the city moves move forward on the recommendations, there is a good chance taxpayers could see reduced crime at a lower cost to taxpayers.
Scott McKeen from the Edmonton Journal commented on the Task Force's recommendations by stating:
The report argues that working upstream on the root causes of crime is not only pragmatic, from a safety perspective, but cost-effective. Estimates are that every dollar spent on crime prevention saves as much as $20 in costs later.
Studies show that school-based programs that tackle aggressive behaviour are effective. So are programs that get kids involved early in positive activities in sports and recreation. Many of these ideas aren't new. But fledgling programs often died on the vine due to a lack of funding.
Politics can be a cynical game. Elections have been won by political parties pandering to public fears, with promises to get tough on crime.
But all the cops and all the jails do nothing to get at the root causes of crime. Nor are there enough cops to watch every neighbourhood, let alone every block of homes.
Not everyone is enamored with Mandel's approach. According to the Edmonton Sun, Councillor Tony Caterina, a member of Edmonton's Police Commission, thinks the report is off track. He would like to see way more resources pumped into the police budget as a way of tackling crime.
Certainly, all the nine recommendations are laudable They're things that we have said over and over for probably hundreds of years that would be good for society. I think what's missing in this particular report is enforcement.
While no one will deny enforcement is important, isn't this simply dealing with the problem after the crime has been committed? Shouldn't there be equal effort into trying to prevent the crime from happening in the first place?
The task force report will be reviewed by council in the coming weeks to see what can be implemented and by what date. I think Mandel's approach should be given a chance to succeed over the long-term. Only then will we be able to determine if his strategy around putting more resources into preventing crime was the prudent one. I for one think that it will be.