BEYOND A 'GET TOUGH ON CRIME' STANCE
Safer Communities Forum
A community-based crime reduction strategy, targeting drug use and increased early intervention, emerged as one of the best ways to build a safer community at a day-long conference held at the Seaside Centre on Monday.
More than 50 people attended, including several councillors from the Town of Gibsons and District of Sechelt, who collaborated to host the event. Guest speakers Fiona Young ( from Simon Fraser University's Institute of Urban Research Studies ) and RCMP deputy commissioner Gary Bass both updated their presentations from the previous Building Safer Communities forum, held in the Lower Mainland in February.
"In our enthusiasm to get things done, we created rather too many rules," said Young of the crime reduction work carried out by the Home Office in the U.K., where she oversaw the northeast region for a decade.
Rather than adopting a "get tough on crime" stance, a 2007 review found the strategy had to make better use of non-custodial sentencing for crime and a need to stop young people from reoffending. The crime reduction strategy was designed on a national scale but is being delivered locally.
"We've clarified who's going to spearhead this, and in the U.K., it's local government," Young said. Funding priorities shifted from situational responses ( "making things harder to steal," she said ) to drug treatment programs to get at the root causes of crime. The strategy also saw the ranks of officers bolstered to 140,000, as well as 60,000 "community support police officers," who provide a visible presence needed to lower the "perception gap" - the public's view that the streets are more dangerous than the stats show is the case.
The risk of becoming a victim of crime is down to 22 per cent in that region of the U.K., its lowest level since a national crime survey began in 1981. Detection technologies ( installing primarily closed circuit TV cameras in public places ) remains a cornerstone of the strategy, Young said.
In B.C., marijuana remains the cornerstone of organized crime, said Gary Bass. Profits generated through the sale of marijuana are often used to fund other drug industries, and synthetic drug production rose almost annually between 1998 and 2007, he added.
"We're being used as a drug-producing country, in some respects, for the United States," said the deputy RCMP commissioner. Since 1998, cases of crystal meth possession have become 50 times more prominent he said - although Sunshine Coast RCMP say that problem hasn't yet taken root on the Coast.
Bass noted B.C. gangs stand out in Canada due to their business acumen. Whereas gangs in other provinces are often derived from socio-economic conditions, B.C. gangs are sophisticated and well-organized. But the RCMP is limited by funds to the extent they can target only 23 per cent of the province's estimated 130 organized crime groups, he said.
More B.C. murders than ever are organized crime-related, he said. Stats show that 29 per cent of murders were gang-related in 1998, and 43 per cent were related to gangs last year. Sunshine Coast RCMP Staff Sgt. Kevin Picard briefly identified crack cocaine as the street-level drug most commonly used by prolific offenders on the Coast, and underlined drug addiction as the cause for the vast majority of break and enters on the Coast.
Faith Auton-Cuff, Van-couver Coastal Health's mental health and addiction services manager on the Coast, highlighted a lack of adequate housing as one root cause of crime.
"You can have the most elaborate treatment plan in the world - if someone doesn't have a house, you can throw that out the window," she said.
As the meeting wound up, Sechelt, Gibsons, School District 46, Sunshine Coast RCMP, Vancouver Coastal Health, and Sunshine Coast Community Services agreed to pursue a local safer communities initiative.
Coast Reporter (CN BC)
Copyright: 2008 Coast Reporter