Attacking the causes of crime is the only way to prevent it from spiralling out of control, says a world-renowned expert on the subject.
By doing so, cities can expect to reduce crime rates by at least 50 per cent in 10 years, a realistic goal for a community the size of Thunder Bay, said University of Ottawa criminology professor Irvin Waller, the author of Less Law, More Order: The Truth About Reducing Crime.
"You cannot solve the problems of drugs and violent crime if you only use the reactive system," Waller told a breakfast gathering Wednesday morning, as Thunder Bay officially launched its much-anticipated Crime Prevention Council.
"These do not work."
Waller said instead of dumping money into providing more police officers on the street, tackling social issues like drug and alcohol abuse, providing parenting programs to stabilize families, encouraging teens to stay in school, anger management and anti-bullying programs and bringing social agencies together with government and the legal system are more effective crime prevention tools.
Once the crime prevention council is in place, Waller recommended an audit that will present an overview of where crime is taking place, who is committing the crimes, when it’s happening and provide the base to understand where best to direct resources.
Though unfamiliar with Thunder Bay specifically, Waller said there are some generalities that tend to prove true across the board, including the fact that on average five per cent of a city’s youth usually account for 55 per cent of its crime.
"Crime is incredibly concentrated," he said. "We also know that victims are incredibly concentrated. About four to five per cent of addresses account for 40 to 50 per cent of crime."
Waller said municipalities must tap into federal and provincial funding to help pay for the programs, cautioning that they can’t be paid for off the backs of local taxpayers.
Thunder Bay Police Insp. Andy Hay said crime is a definite problem in Thunder Bay, and it’s no secret that early preventive measures are the answer.
"It’s not enforcement, it’s not more police officers, it’s not more arrests. It’s what goes on long before the arrest stage. We need to prevent the crime from happening, as opposed to just responding to it. We can respond to it all we want. But until we get at the root causes of the crime, it’s going to keep occurring."
Mayoral candidate Keith Hobbs said it’s taken the city far too long to realize that, and called on Mayor Lynn Peterson to apologize to the city for failing to act on the problem.
Hobbs, a former president of the Thunder Bay Police Association, said he’s looking forward to working on the issue.
"Dr. Waller spoke of the possibility of reducing crime by 50 per cent in 10 years. He’s telling us that we could have reduced crime in this city 50 per cent in 10 years. That is an indictment against the mayor. We have not done this program, we’re too late. But we need to get on with it right now," Hobbs said.
Peterson, who said a minimum 50 per cent reduction in crime by 2020 is attainable, said the crime prevention council is a necessary step, and the right one, having been patterned after a similar, successful program in Waterloo, Ont.
She added Hobbs is completely off base in his thoughts, that the city’s police force has begun alternative programs, including foot patrols, and that taxpayers support plenty of social programs and organizations.
"We also, in terms of assisting some of those without other means, we put $22 million into things like Ontario Works every year," Peterson said. "We have recreation and parks programs and certainly we recognize that the youth in this community need to be supported."
Frank Pullia, the third of six mayoral candidates – the other three were not in attendance – said he agrees that crime prevention at an early stage is the right way to go.
"It’s one thing to treat the problem. It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a cancer. We need to go to the source and treat it, and that’s the best, most effective way to treat crime," Pullia said.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Stan Beardy said his people will do their part to keep crime rates down, acknowledging that First Nations people arriving in Thunder Bay are part of the problem.
"We are prepared to take responsibility for ourselves," Beardy said. "I think what’s important here … is that we are prepared to work with the council to create outreach programs that are effective to assist First Nations people from the Far North to (adapt) to a different cultural setting."
Crime Prevention Council members will be recruited over the coming months, with a program co-ordinator expected to be in place within a couple of weeks. The council is expected to hold its first meeting in mid-December.