A positive way to deal with conflict and crimeWednesday, October 30, 2013 by: Darren Taylor
Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Chief Bob Davies (pictured) delivered introductory remarks at the 30th Annual Crime Prevention Seminar, held at the Marconi Club Tuesday.
The focus of this year’s Seminar was the launch of a new program, with a different approach, in addressing downtown crime.
That new approach is to nip the problem in the bud when it comes to dealing with troublesome youngsters at the elementary and secondary school levels.
It is also designed to help sex trade workers get away from the unhealthy, dangerous street life in a cooperative, supportive way, by urging municipal leaders to improve and develop the downtown area and by referring offenders to community agencies in an effort to tackle the underlying issues that drive people to indulge in such activity.
Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, after receiving $82,000 in provincial government funding, is partnering with the John Howard Society and the NORDIK Institute to launch the new program.
A key component of Tuesday’s Seminar was input provided by the Downtown Dialogue in Action Project, a partnership between Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, the John Howard Society and the NORDIK Institute.
The NORDIK Institute is a non-profit community research group affiliated with Algoma University, headed by Algoma University Associate Professor of Community Economic and Social Development Dr. Gayle Broad.
The strategy’s approach is called “Restorative Justice.”
It works, said Manager of Youth and Community Services of the Hamilton and Burlington Area David Stam, speaking to reporters at Tuesday’s Seminar.
“It has worked tremendously in Hamilton.”
“There’s been a drastic reduction in first time offences in young people, and 93 percent of young offenders we’ve worked with did not re-offend,” Stam said.
“Teachers and principals were trained so that when young people engage in conflict, it was addressed straight away.”
“Individuals are told to leave (suspended or expelled from school), but this approach restores those people,” Stam said.
“It’s the community’s responsibility to make those people feel part of the community,” Stam said, as opposed to the traditional punitive measures that social workers say only leads to further anger and alienation on the part of the punished individuals.
The Restorative Justice approach has also worked for a number of seniors in the Hamilton area who engage in criminal activity, Stam added.
How does it work?
Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Staff Sergeant Jane Martynuck told us: “Our service, along with the two school boards, the John Howard Society and the NORDIK Institute are working together.”
“What we are in the process of doing, is have all of our liaison officers that go into the elementary schools and high schools be trained in Restorative Justice, as well as members from both school boards and the John Howard Society,” Martynuck said.
“The idea is we can start teaching the children in school effective ways of dealing with conflict.”
“It’ll be a matter of the person who is harmed explain to the person who did the harming, and make the harmer understand how their actions affected someone else, to make them think about the consequences before they actually do some action that could be criminal.”
“It’s a different way of crime prevention, the idea being to reduce bullying in schools, expulsions in schools and neighbourhood disputes,” Martynuck explained.
“It’s a positive way to deal with conflict.”
In terms of attacking prostitution in the downtown area, Martynuck said: “We’re at a point where we have to look at different avenues and try different ideas.”
“We’ve found that when we target one area for prostitution, then they disperse from that area, but then move to a different area.”
“There are a whole bunch of underlying social issues, like mental health, housing or financial issues (that drive people to indulge in activity such as prostitution), and that’s how the Downtown Dialogue in Action will help identify what the key issues are, and from there, then we involve the community partners to assist.”
Along with City Police, OPP, RCMP, municipal and school board leaders in attendance Tuesday, were representatives from a number of community agencies such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, Operation Springboard (a service to help unemployed young people) the Donald Doucet Youth Centre, and many others.
Dr. Gayle Broad, along with Jessica Bolduc, Dana Chalifoux and Tom Green, form the nucleus of NORDIK’s Downtown Dialogue in Action Project.
Bolduc, Chalifoux and Green offer expertise in a wide range of areas, including economic development and First Nations issues, experience in working with victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, and community development.
Green told the audience that, from a community development viewpoint, a more attractive downtown means a safer downtown.
He stated that a more “age-friendly” downtown district for seniors, construction of projects such as the proposed bicycle park (planned for the area west of Esposito Park) for youth to enjoy, development of the old St. Marys Paper site, Gateway site, a revitalized Gore Street and added green space (such as downtown parkettes) would all combine as components of a safer downtown.
Chief Davies told the audience: “There are a lot of reasons why we have crime downtown, but there are a lot of agencies in our community that can help the police to help attack the root cause, the social conditions that lead to downtown crime.”
“We’re all going to work together to make Sault Ste. Marie a much better place, and this will take a lot of the work load off the police,” Davies said, as all law enforcement agencies are working with limited funding and wish to tackle much larger forms of crime.
Dr. Broad told SooToday.com the Downtown Dialogue in Action Project dates back to a meeting she had with Chief Davies not long after a number of homicides and a spread of prostitution occurred in the downtown.
Davies applied for provincial funding to start the new program and its approach, and funding was granted to the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, to share with the John Howard Society and the NORDIK Institute, in the spring of this year.
“Residents and businesses in the downtown are enthusiastic about it,” Dr. Broad told us, adding that even though funding is for one year only, the strategy itself is long-term.
Dr. Broad said anyone wishing to provide input or provide help to the project may contact the NORDIK Institute through Algoma University’s main line at 705-949-2301.