Crime Prevention: Round Table Style

I just got back from a community crime prevention meeting in Richmond, BC. The focus was on illegal drug use and homelessness in and around Vancouver. This meeting was set up by some members from various academic institutions and government organizations, consisting mainly of criminologist and other social scientists who have a special concern with crime rates as we head towards the 2010 Olympics.

I had taken notes of the whole event but I mainly focused on one aspect that I saw that really seemed stick out for me which was the picture drawn by the data versus what the media was reporting on. I can say, after sitting and listening today, that what I am seeing in the statistical information that was presented at the meeting is not what is being reflected by the general media. This is “always” the case as the media seems to be very selective on what it reports on and sees as news worthy compared to the reality of our neighbourhoods. As crime rates fall, the media seems to be projecting an increase.

The main topic was on illegal drug use, particularly drug use in the rural areas of the Fraser Valley then what is traditionally a mainly urban problem. As one of the sociologist noticed, migration seems to be a logical explanation for this shift, and gentrification of older neighbourhoods could very well be the cause of this migration. Supporting this was the constant number of arrests reported by police over all, but these patterns have shifted form one area to another while the rates only fluctuated by 4 to 5 percent. I couldn’t source that data because the presenter was moving to quickly with his slides, but this ties in more or less with many scholars who have done studies in other metropolitan areas in North America.

Homelessness was the “other” big topic of the meeting as the numbers seem to be growing well beyond what the community of Richmond had projected—tied in with this migration theory. This also holds true to other communities around the Lower Mainland. Naturally the economy is seen as the driving force in the rising numbers, and access to affordable housing and community programs are becoming stretched to the breaking point as one of the biggest reason for it, but other factors are being noticed also. The number data available on this problem it growing–it is huge, with the number of studies that are under way now, I do not think that anyone can not doubt that there is a problem.

Like Expo 86, there was a tide of sex trade workers who move into the outlying areas of Vancouver during that event, and for several months later they stayed until the population and local economies settled back to normal. Preparations are being made for the 2010 events schedule for this winter, however, most of the  speakers fear that whatever resources are going to be used may not be enough to deal with the expected increase in prostitution. I should strongly point out too that each panel member had their own agenda of how any money should be allocated to deal with prostitution, particularly street prostitution.

In the end, the main message was that it is up to the community in the long run to deal with these issues. Everything thing from family planning to volunteer workshops was put out onto the table as possible solutions. Homelessness and sex-trade workers are not going to go way, but there are many ways of dealing with it, in a humane manner, that the community can embrace. As one woman from the outreach program said “government has failed us, so it is up to us (the community) to fix the problems.”

I think she nailed part of the problem right on the head, and she doesn’t even know it. People are voting with their wallets. The trend is to vote for a government that will cost less in the form of taxes, so with this type of thinking, social programs are no doubt going to disappear. A train going from down town to the airport is worth more than sheltering everyone under the guise of a social program that will provide the building of affordable housing.

But there is so much that a community can do to lower its crime rate, but getting everyone to work in the same direction is problematic. Education could be the answer to this, but education is not cheap either as it requires the willingness of the learner and the teacher to come together for it to work and become effective. Then there is the time required to get all of the information out there. Not everyone has the time and the willingness to seek out and educate themselves, and the ones that are in need are usually the ones that could benefit the most from education.

Hey, at least people are talking about it, that is positive. I like seeing people from a community get together and solving their own problems because it is a very important first step.

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